Relapse is often considered a serious mistake by recovering addicts. Along with the feeling that you need to start all over again, there may be feelings of shame, regret, sadness, and failure. Certainly, a return to drinking or drug use can lead to waking the entire cycle of addiction again. However, most addiction experts recognize that relapse may be a natural part of one’s recovery.
Relapse doesn’t mean someone is sentenced to addiction the rest of his or her life. In fact, even when there’s relapse, treatment and full recovery is possible! According to research, one third of patients who are in treatment for their addiction will achieve long-term sobriety with their first serious attempt at recovery. Another one third of patients will have brief relapse periods and then achieve abstinence, while another one third will go through chronic relapses before eventually recovering from their addiction. So, although relapse is common, it’s not an obstacle to achieving sobriety.
You might compare recovery to learning a new skill. If up until know you knew how to balance your checkbook a certain way and then a banker taught you a new way, you will likely have a tendency to go back to your old ways – out of habit, convenience, familiarity, etc. In recovery, you’re learning a new way to manage your life, cope with feelings, and accept yourself for who you are. These are also skills that take time.
Furthermore, there may be circumstances in your life that may be contributing to an addiction. If these circumstances are not addressed in addiction treatment, they may continue to challenge your ability to stay sober. In other words, there might be predisposing factors that can place you at risk for relapse. These include:
· Learning disabilities
· Concurring mental illness
· High stress
· Inadequate coping skills
· Lack of support at home or work
· Dysfunctional family life
· Lack of impulse control
In addition to these circumstances, there might also be your own ambivalence, meaning your uncertainty about whether you want to stop using or drinking. For instance, on the one hand you may want to quit because you see how it’s affecting your life. On the other hand, you may want to continue using because it helps you cope with life, it helps you feel better, and you’re afraid what your life would look like if you didn’t drink or use drugs. Holding two positions at the same time is being ambivalent. This might also contribute to relapse.
However, despite ambivalence and the above circumstances, addiction is treatable! This is essential to know because it can strengthen your confidence in getting sober. Treatment can address the above listed circumstances and you can work with a drug counselor or therapist to work through your ambivalence. At some point, however, you’re going to need to make a firm decision that quitting is what you want to do. Otherwise you’ll likely end up using again.
However, in the meantime, with the right support – having a network of loving family and friends, meeting with a therapist regularly, attending a support group, and learning about addiction – you can overcome the obstacles to sobriety. You can find the resolve inside of you to quit and you can create a joyful and meaningful life for yourself.
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