Why Do People Relapse Years After Being Clean?

We hear the stories all the time. A lawyer or athlete or actress who has been clean for 10 years or more suddenly relapses. It can make for good TV or news briefs, but for you, it’s real life. What would make someone turn to drugs or alcohol after being sober for 20 years?

Getting through the first year of recovery is a major milestone and one that puts long term sobriety in your favor. A 2007 study from the National Institutes of Health found that after one year, sobriety success rates increase to 50%. If you can make it to five years, your risk for relapse drops down to less than 15%.

Still, the risk for relapse is never eliminated. Let’s discuss a few reasons why a person might relapse years after being clean.

The Brain Hasn’t Fully Healed

Drugs and alcohol change the way the brain works. When these substances are introduced into the brain, the brain cells communicate with each other differently, changing your behavior and personality. It takes time for the brain to return to normal.

The first recovery is most intense, with regular counseling and therapy sessions that attempt to retrain the brain. Even years after recovery, the brain can still revert back to its old thinking, such as when you hear a certain song. Usually, when people relapse years after treatment, it’s because they were faced with temptation or stress that triggered negative thinking.

Relapse Can be a Symptom of Addiction

Addiction is a brain disease. Just as other chronic conditions have patterns and symptoms, addiction does, too. Relapse can be an unfortunate symptom of addiction. The disease is characterized by cravings, tolerance and a loss of control. If relapse does occur, it does not mean that treatment has failed or that all progress is lost. However, it does means that treatment needs to be modified.

Stress is a Powerful Trigger

Stress is a major trigger for relapse. The average person might assume that everyone has stress and addicts just need to learn to cope better, but this isn’t the case. Here’s why. Any type of stress activates the fight-or-flight stress response system. A person without a history of alcohol or drug use may take a warm bath, go for a walk or call their friend on the phone. A person who does have an addiction in their background will long for drugs or alcohol.

The best ways to prevent relapse are by following your recovery plan and being diligent about caring for yourself, especially during times of stress. Though the risk for relapse is always there, your efforts to avoid temptation and manage stress are never wasted. To start your recovery, call The River Source today!

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