Is Relapse a Normal Part of Recovery?

Imagine that after a long and debilitating 4 years, your loved one finally makes the decision to attend rehab for drug addiction. They complete the 30-day program and are provided with an aftercare plan when they leave. At this point, the risk of relapse is a very real concern. Is it normal? Can it be prevented? Does it mean the end of recovery?

Understanding relapse is just as important as understanding addiction and recovery. While there are conflicting statements about whether or not relapse is a part of recovery, it’s safe to say that it can be normal, but it’s not necessary. In fact, relapse offers no benefit to the recovering addict, and it’s important that they return to sobriety as quickly as possible. Still, for many recovered addicts, it took them several attempts at sobriety before they were finally able to achieve it. They felt that hitting rock bottom gave them the desire and willpower to change.

Let’s take a look at two very different individuals and their experiences with relapse.

Relapse as a Part of Recovery

Anna, a 22-year-old with a young son, is recently released from a 30-day addiction treatment program. She did very well in treatment and was able to uncover a lot of the reasons why she turned to drug abuse as a teen. Identifying and working through some of these issues have helped her greatly, but she knows she still has a long way to go. That’s why a large part of her aftercare plan is seeking both individual and family therapy. Anna is a bit hesitant to be leaving treatment so soon, but she knows she needs to get back to her son.

When Anna returns home, she does well for the first few weeks. Yet as she returns to school and work and starts caring for her son, she has a difficult time adjusting and still lacks the coping skills needed to deal with this stress. Anna’s cravings start creeping up, and she finally caves into the pressure when her old friends start coming around. Anna relapses and hits rock bottom for a second time. She’s angry with herself and realizes that this isn’t the lifestyle she wants to live. She wants to be a mother, get an education and have a career so that she can live on her own.

In Anna’s case, relapse was a part of her recovery, and her “slip” forced her to attend another month of recovery, continue working on her coping skills and get her life back on track. For Anna, relapse enabled her to embrace recovery more than she did the first time around. She knows that she doesn’t want to go back to her old lifestyle and that she has a better life ahead of her.

When Relapse is Not Normal

Let’s look at another case where relapse is not a necessary part of recovery and is, in fact, harmful. Leroy is a 35-year-old male who has struggled with alcoholism since he was a young adult. The lines have become blurred over the years as Leroy has been able to maintain a job and several long-term relationships while drinking. He always says that his drinking is just for fun and that he has it under control. That is until Leroy gets into a car accident after driving drunk. After this incident, his life spirals out of control.

Leroy loses his license and his job, and with more time on his hands, he becomes bored and starts drinking during the day. He has trouble in his relationships and starts showing aggression. His underlying anger coupled with the legal implications from his DUI is too much for Leroy to handle. His family encourages him to seek alcohol rehab, which he does, reluctantly.

Even though Leroy attends an alcohol treatment program, he never really gets involved in his recovery. When the program ends and Leroy is given an aftercare plan, he follows parts of it, but not all of it. Leroy feels that he can gain control over his life while still being able to drink on occasion. Without making secure changes in his life, Leroy relapses several times and uses it as an excuse to buy time before getting sober again. In this case, relapse is not a normal part of recovery and indicates that Leroy needs more help in order to achieve sobriety.

Relapse is Never an Excuse

A better statement is that relapse is not a normal part of recovery but is a part of the disease. With adequate treatment, the desire to change and relapse prevention, a recovering addict should be able to rebuild their life without delay. While relapse is not the end of the road, it shouldn’t be justified as being normal because otherwise, recovering addicts will believe that it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card for slipping up.

If you or a loved one is in danger of relapsing, contact The River Source today at 1-866-294-9331. With the right tools and coping mechanisms, relapse can be prevented.

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