Aside from all of the negative mental and physical aspects of addiction to drugs, including alcohol, most of those close to addicts will be presented with some ‘backsliding’ after rehabilitation. People who become addicted to drugs often use these substances as a way to handle stress, avoid uncomfortable situations, or feel better than they ordinarily might, which is why relapses are so common.
Drugs are insidious because they cause actual physical changes in the brain, and often in other organs such as the liver. Our brains are the source of a number of different hormones such as endorphins and serotonin that have a direct effect on mood. Many of these give a feeling of euphoria, such as the ‘runner’s high’. Use of drugs and alcohol alters the way the neurotransmitters that produce these hormones work, and can actually take over the task from them entirely.
Why Drug Addicts Relapse
While everyone would be a great deal happier if one treatment session at a rehab facility would prove sufficient, the truth is that few addicts are cured the first time they enter treatment. Detoxifying the body is generally the first step, and often medication is required to ameliorate some of the withdrawal symptoms. Serious alcoholics will need to be supervised closely to make sure they do not suffer convulsions or coma.
Detoxing is only the first step, however, in achieving a drug-free life, the addict must undergo counseling to help him or her deal not only with their drug problem, but also with dealing with the world at large. Relapse rate run between 40% and 90%, depending on the source, so family and friends dealing with a recovering addict should always be prepared for at least one relapse.
There are a number of reasons why addicts do ‘fall off the wagon’ and go back to using their drug of choice:
- They continue to associate with people who drink or do drugs, making it much more likely that they will fall back into their old behavior patterns.
- Situations that produce stress can cause a relapse. Being unable to respond adequately to traffic jams, altercations with a neighbor, or pressures at work can all send the addict back to drugs.
- A man or woman who has difficulty keeping an even keel emotionally is also more likely to relapse than someone who has learned to keep the emotions steady.
- A rehabilitated addict who is having anger issues is in danger of relapsing – they are on edge and will seek relief from ordinary irritations with their drug of choice.
- Former addicts who declare that they are henceforth completely cured and drug free often find themselves taking to their old ways.
- Recovery programs require a certain amount of commitment on the part of the addict; those who begin to neglect follow up programs are actually showing a lack of interest in the recovery process.
Handling a Relapse
There is no denying that a relapsing addict is an enormous disappointment to family and friends, as well as to themselves. It is also a given that most addicts will require more than one round of treatment before they can actually be considered to be permanently drug free. While it is normal for those close to the addict to feel anger and frustration when a relapse has occurred, there are a number of things that should be done that will help to prevent relapses in the future:
- Family members should never make light of the relapse, and should avoid putting the blame on anyone but the addict. The addict must accept responsibility for the relapse.
- Don’t bother piling on guilt. A relapsed addict who doesn’t feel guilty for their misbehavior is not likely to start feeling sorry if picked at. An addict who does feel guilty is more likely to enter rehab again and have a greater chance of success.
- Try to keep a completely normal routine in the home – letting the addict understand that his or her actions are not going to disrupt home life is an important way to deal with addiction.
- Get the addict back into the treatment program as quickly as possible. Show support, but do not fall into the role of ‘enabler’. No excuses should be made for the relapse.
Time to Abandon Ship
While it is true that substance treatment programs can be successful and former addicts can go on to lead drug-free, productive lives, it is also true that a good percentage of addicts have a revolving door policy with treatment – they take the cure, are sober for a few weeks or months, start using drugs or drinking again, get back into treatment, and so on. Those who are married or in partnership with a person like this will have to seriously consider that there will be a time when the relationship has simply become too destructive to continue.
None of us are going to live forever, and chaining oneself to a repeat addict inevitably turns into a form of masochism. There is no reason for anyone to spend their precious few years on earth with someone who puts their drug of choice over all else and relapses time and time again.
If children are involved, the situation is even worse. Not only can the ability of the parents to provide material support be affected, but the psychological harm is also profound. Children who grow up in a household where drugs or alcohol are used are much more likely to become substance abusers themselves.
At some point, the wife, husband, or partner of a repeatedly relapsing addict will have to take steps to save themselves.
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