Chronic Relapse: What Is It and How You Can Find Help

chronic relapse

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Addiction is complicated to treat as it can be an ongoing urge that requires persistence and resilience. It is not uncommon for people to find themselves right back in the first phase of recovery, as chronic relapse is an unfortunate, but not completely detrimental occurrence.

Chronic relapse can become a cycle for some people where the person tries to kick the habit, gets into treatment, falls right back on their bad habits, and then tries to get clean again. This is referred to as a chronic relapse, and it is a continuing problem for many who simply could not get out of the repetitive scenarios.

Some might think that even if the cycle puts the individual right back on square one, it is far better than not trying to kick the habit at all. The problem with the repetition is that in many instances, the person’s body has not really had a chance to recover from the last substance dependency and the damage that it had done, and then after a brief pause, the individual goes right back to the dependency, and the damage continues as well.

What Causes Chronic Relapse?

What Causes Chronic Relapse?As different people behave differently during detox and rehab, they could have different reactions to the actual treatment, and therefore, different reasons why they fall into relapse as well.

There are, however, quite a few commonalities when people fall into a relapse, and these commonalities are being documented for further study in the hopes of finding a lasting solution.

Some of the more common reasons include:

Ineffective Treatment

Before anyone could go through rehab, a thorough assessment is done by a therapist so that an appropriate treatment can be undertaken. There are many treatment approaches available during rehab, with patients responding to some better than the others.

There is a need to see which particular treatment the patient would respond best to, otherwise there is high likelihood that the patient would simply not complete rehab and slip right back into using substances again. In other cases, patients would complete the rehab as quickly as they could only because they wanted to get back to their lives, and because the treatment didn’t really stick as they did not commit to it, they fall into relapse soon after.

Attempting Self-Detox

While the intention is indeed good, that of trying to quit the bad habit, doing self-detox is not always advisable. This is because there are certain withdrawal symptoms that might be too much for an average person and they could need medical assistance to endure it or go through it safely.

Another reason is that the detox phase necessarily needs to proceed to the rehab phase for the actual recovery to occur. This is because recovery also needs to go hand-in-hand with sobriety, and this is achieved through the therapy and treatments that happen during the rehab phase. Those who self-detox, should they be successful on their own, will only have the benefit of quitting the substance. Without the therapy to prevent them from going into relapse, there is a high likelihood they will go back to using substances again.

Not Paying Attention to the Signs

A good amount of restored cognitive function is noticeable after a successful detox and the subsequent rehab that follows it. This means the person’s full mental capacity has returned, so they should be able to recognize the signs of a possible relapse before it slips into the uncontrollable level.

Should they ignore these signs, there is a good chance that they will find themselves right back into their substance dependency. The signs they should look out for typically involve strong urges that they find very difficult to get over, unnecessary exposure to temptations to use again, and the slow erosion of their willpower to say no to the urges.

Taking Mental Health For Granted

Many who complete the rehabilitation phase foster the mentality that if they are able to get over their substance dependency, they can get over anything. While this might be a good example of positive mental conditioning, it is by no means infallible.

Many who slipped into relapse admit that they thought they could handle the stress and burdens of everyday life when they had gotten out of rehab, only to find that the stress and pressures pushed them right back into the “escape” provided by substances. People need to be aware of their limitations, and once they see that they are close to tipping over, they should seek help immediately.

Unhealthy Environment

There is always the danger of being exposed to an environment that will push a person to do what they don’t want to do, such as going back to abusing substances. The therapy that goes into rehabilitation is designed to fortify their will against this with better coping mechanisms. At the end of the day, however, people will reach their limit and become vulnerable to the influence of their environment.

This is why people who are in outpatient therapy-type of treatment are always assessed to see if the environment they go to when outside of the rehab facility is conducive to recovery or would just push them right back into using substances.

Being Unfamiliar with the Actual Dangers

chronic relapse treatment coSome of the actual dangers of recovery from substance abuse include the triggers that pushed the person to using substances in the first place. This is an actual danger because many go through detox and rehabilitation without even realizing what their actual triggers are. In other instances, they fail to account for all of their triggers, and the ones that they are not familiar with are the ones that get them later.

Rehabilitation is a time of great discovery for many who undergo it, mainly because they learn more about themselves, or they finally get to acknowledge some things that they refused to before. This is important to know because unless all the possible triggers are recognized and accounted for, the unidentified ones might catch the person when their guard is down, and before they know it they are already well into relapse.

Weak Determination

The term “weak determination” is already somewhat antithetical in itself, because the word determination should allude to something so solid and durable that it stands up to anything. This is the same if one wishes to remain sober or fall into a relapse.

A person’s determination will determine if the temptations around will take them back to square one, or if they will exert more effort to stay true to the path. In many instances, people will say they are “determined” to stay sober, and for a time they just might do that, but after a while their resolve starts to weaken and then it all goes downhill from there.

What are the Stages of a Chronic Relapse?

A chronic relapse is not typically instantaneous, as it happens in stages, where people could potentially identify where they are, and seek help to break the cycle. While these stages are indeed identifiable, they are not always consciously done so, which is why there are many instances where the person progresses far into the stage where a relapse is inevitable.

The stages are as follows:

Emotional Phase

There are many instances where strong emotions tend to dictate a person’s actions. Going into relapse is also one of these instances, as emotions start to get the better of the person, slowly wearing down their strength of will to not give in to the pressures and stress of whatever it is that they are facing. People in the emotional phase of going into relapse barely know that they are already in it.

Some signs of the emotional phase of relapse include:

  • Preference for isolation
  • Allowing emotions to be bottled up
  • Preferring not to attend gatherings, including therapy sessions for those in treatment
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disruption of sleeping patterns
  • Neglect of self-care

Mental Phase

The mental phase is when the confusion sets in, brought on by the storms of inexplicable feelings from the emotional phase. This second phase is characterized by the last vestiges of internal struggle as the person tries desperately to rationalize what is happening, in the hopes that what they subconsciously fear (a relapse) does not become a reality.

Some signs of the mental phase of relapse include:

  • Lying
  • Inclination towards pessimism
  • Trying to rationalize weakening resolve
  • Tendency to “glamorize” past of substance abuse
  • “Settling” for how far along treatment they reached (before they gave into the relapse)
  • Diminishing thoughts about the negative aspects substance abuse
  • Entertaining notions of how difficult therapy is

Physical Phase

The physical phase is the final stage of relapse and it is where the person gives in to the urges and cravings that have become too strong for them to resist. Most people who are in this phase will still try to hide the fact that they are already in relapse, although as they get deeper into substance abuse once more, efforts to hide it will become increasingly difficult.

Jaywalker Can Help You Break the Vicious Chronic Relapse Cycle

We here at Jaywalker have helped so many people back to recovery and sobriety that we have actually understood the science and the patterns associated with chronic relapsing. Some habits are harder to break than others, and sometimes people can’t break them at all.

With help, however, a person could do wonders in their efforts to recover and get sober. We understand what help is needed, where this help is needed, and how best to extend this help. It takes a good amount of experience in these things to truly give the people the help they need, and it’s a good thing that we have helped people in this aspect for as long as we have. We understand, and we can really help. Let us help you now.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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