Recovering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol is never easy, and one of the most significant challenges in fighting drug addiction is the risk of drug addiction relapse, or a return to drug abuse following an attempt to quit. A relapse can occur with any type of addiction, and is typically spurred by one or more emotional, mental or physical “triggers,” or stimuli that result in drug-seeking behavior, which can be difficult to manage without the proper skills and support. Drug addiction relapse is a common occurrence, and as devastating as it may seem, it’s important to remember that a relapse is a setback, not a failure. Learning how to avoid relapses, and how to respond if you do relapse, are vital components of your substance abuse treatment program. For more information about drug addiction treatment and common reasons for relapse, call today to speak to a qualified substance abuse recovery counselor at Behavioral Rehabilitation Services.
Common Reasons for Drug Addiction Relapse
Recovery from drug addiction is an ongoing process, and the unfortunate truth is that a large percentage of recovering addicts relapse after treatment, particularly during the first 30 days of recovery, when an addict is still learning how to deal with cravings and triggers. In fact, relapse is considered a normal part of the recovery process, though it can become a serious issue if the right steps aren’t taken to get the addict back on track.
The reasons why addicts relapse vary based on the person, the substance they are abusing, and the circumstances surrounding their addiction, but there are common relapse triggers that affect a large percentage of recovering addicts, including the following:
- Negative emotions
- Social pressure
- Being in the presence of drugs or alcohol
- Family history of addiction
- Mental health issues
- Failure to seek aftercare
Opioid Painkiller Relapse Rates
There are a number of factors that may play into a recovering addict’s risk of drug addiction relapse, including emotional, physical and environmental triggers, and there is also evidence that suggests certain drugs may be more difficult to quit, thereby increasing the risk of relapse for individuals recovering from an addiction to these substances. According to studies, hallucinogens like ketamine and LSD have a relapse rate of 46%, as do inhalants like aerosol sprays and gases, which is rather low, compared to opioid painkillers like morphine and hydrocodone, which have a relapse rate of 97%. Opiates are typically prescribed to treat chronic pain, but they only mask the problem, they don’t cure it. As a result, users often find themselves taking higher and higher doses of drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone, until they eventually become addicted and are unable to get through the day without them.
How Opioid Painkillers Affect the Body
Opioid painkillers available legally by prescription work by attaching to and activating opioid receptor proteins on nerve cells in the body and brain, thereby inhibiting the transmission of pain signals. When taken for a short period of time under medical supervision, opioids can be safe and effective in the treatment of chronic pain. However, because the drugs produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they carry a high risk of abuse and addiction. Even when used appropriately, opioid painkillers can result in dependency, and when misused, the drugs can lead to overdose, respiratory depression, and death. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the most dramatic increase occurred among deaths related to synthetic opioids, with over 20,000 overdose deaths.
The Jump from Opioid Drugs to Heroin
Opioid painkillers are dangerous enough on their own, and the risk of an opioid relapse is among the highest in the country. Sadly, because of the chemical similarities between opioids and heroin, people who abuse morphine and other prescription painkillers often graduate to heroin, a highly addictive, illegal drug made from morphine that is most often injected into the bloodstream to achieve a sensation of euphoria. According to data tracking heroin use in the United States, nearly 80% of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin. The intense, pleasurable feeling from injecting heroin happens almost immediately, but wears off rather quickly, which typically results in repeated use and a physical dependence on the drug.
Individuals who become dependent on heroin may experience symptoms of withdrawal, which can include:
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle weakness
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Withdrawal is the uncomfortable stage that occurs after drug removal, and avoidance of these intensely unpleasant symptoms is a common reason for a relapse on drugs. In addition to opioid painkillers and heroin, some other drugs with high relapse rates include alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and crack.
How to Avoid a Relapse on Drugs
One of the most important skills an addict learns in treatment is how to deal with relapse triggers – events, relationships or interactions that cause an addict to justify using again. These triggers are often associated with old memories or routines, so they vary from person to person, but the strategies for dealing with them remain the same.
The following are some ways to avoid a relapse on drugs:
- Know your triggers
- Avoid people and places that make you think about using
- Avoid exposure to alcohol and drugs
- Have a strong support system
- Attend therapy or support groups after treatment
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Remember your treatment program
- Consider a sober living home
- Take your medication regularly
- Foster positive, healthy relationships with friends and family members
Signs of a Potential Drug Addiction Relapse
While relapse is a common occurrence, it’s not typically something that happens spontaneously, without warning. There are specific signs to watch out for in yourself or another recovering addict that might signal a possible drug addiction relapse.
These signs may include the following:
- Reconnecting with old drinking or drug-using buddies
- Longing for the old days of substance abuse
- Feeling like you can use again without becoming addicted
- Feeling depressed, anxious or lonely
- Ruining healthy and supportive relationships
- Feeling resentment towards the people who are trying to help
- Experiencing a sudden reappearance of withdrawal symptoms
- Experiencing intense feelings of stress or tension
- Losing faith in your recovery program
Call Behavioral Rehabilitation Services Today
Drug addiction affects people of all ages and walks of life, and relapse, too, crosses all demographic borders. According to statistics, 47% of addicts relapse during the first year after substance abuse treatment, and 61% of those who relapse will do so more than once. The best way to avoid drug addiction relapse is by being prepared and having a plan in place. Discussing your relapse triggers with your therapist or support group can help ensure that you are aware of your triggers and how best to handle them should a potential relapse situation arise. If a relapse does occur, it’s likely you will experience feelings of guilt, anger, shame or regret, which may lead to further drug use if no one steps in to help. If you or someone you know is at risk for a drug relapse, contact Behavioral Rehabilitation Services today to discuss the best way to move forward.