When Battling Addiction, Relapse is Normal

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Those battling addiction understand how difficult it is to stay clean and how frustrating a relapse may seem. But Dr. David Sack, at Psychology Today, writes that nearly 9 out of 10 individuals battling substance abuse will experience “at least one mild to moderate slip.”

It helps to view addiction in the same light as any chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma. Often, those patients will miss treatments and relapse, so to speak. It is normal and to be expected.

For addicts, seeing “drug-related cues”, for example drug paraphenalia, or places where they used drugs in the past, can trigger a relapse. This is because drug use actually alters the brain so that it is now hardwired to react to these triggers and expect drug use to follow. Avoidance of these cues or triggers is key for many addicts to avoid relapse.

Because of this “rewiring” of the brain, the first 90 days of recovery are the most difficult. That is when a relapse will normally occur because the brain is trying to repair itself and is still expecting, in a way, to experience drug use. And, the longer the brain is denied these cravings, the more difficult it becomes to avoid them when confronted by a cue.

Most treatment plans teach addicts to recognize these cues. A relapse becomes nearly impossible to avoid if one can’t see it coming. There is actually a silver lining that can come from a slip though. A patient may learn a new trigger to avoid, thus they can avoid them, or recognize them as triggers and overcome them.

Being in treatment will also create new, healthy triggers to replace the old habits of drug use. A patient begins to associate their cravings with reaching out for help rather than picking up a substance.

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