Why Attending Relapse Programs is Important to Stay Sober

Relapse is one of the most frustrating obstacles on the way to recovery from any addiction. Going through the withdrawal period alone is extremely difficult, and battling the urge to indulge the habit on daily basis can be nerve-racking. It can force a person to go through the same exhausting cycle of detoxification, withdrawal, and relapse all over again, bringing depression and shattering the confidence of reaching full recovery.

Why is it hard to quit in the first place?

Drugs and alcohol change the way our brains work. Pleasurable effects that they bring make us unwilling to stop using because we want to keep feeling good, while certain chemicals induce the serious physical need for the drug.

Psychological dependence

Alcohol and drugs affect our mental state in different but equally significant ways. They allow us to feel euphoric and high, calm and relaxed, they help relieve pain, forget about our daily troubles, ease the symptoms of various mental conditions and so on. They also have a tremendous impact on how we express ourselves. For instance, someone who's typically quite shy and reserved can become loud and social when they're drinking.

With the development of our identity, there are some parts of our personality that we favor less than others, and subsequently, we are often uncomfortable with expressing them. Drugs and alcohol can enable us to express the traits that we usually hide. This way, drinking can make a person who was raised in a family that condemned showing vulnerability more emotional and open. Similarly, someone from a place where aggression was frowned upon may get more hostile and snappy under the influence of alcohol.

Physical dependence

The physical manifestation of drug or alcohol addiction begins when chemicals reach the brain via the bloodstream. We can treat the brain as a communication center that regulates our feelings, thoughts, and actions by sending out and receiving signals, passed by a special type of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Various substances affect the production of neurotransmitters in different ways, changing the way we feel. This is why both alcohol and drug rehab facilities (https://addictionresource.com/drug-rehab/ – discover more here) focus on getting the substances out of patients' systems through detox before treating the underlying mental issues.

Alcohol induces opioid release in the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex of the brain. Nucleus accumbens acts as a part of the “reward circuit”. It recognizes signals sent by dopamine neurons when we do anything rewarding and adjusts the level of this neurotransmitter accordingly.

Dopamine mainly regulates feelings of pleasure, emotion, and motivation. When abnormally large amounts of dopamine are released, the brain eventually “runs out” of it, and some short time is required for dopamine stores to recover. This is why drug users feel the craving for the substance and may feel depressed when they don't have access to it. Over time the brain gets used to the different environment created by the drug and makes us feel like it is normal instead of unusual and exciting. This tolerance leads many people to increase their doses and makes withdrawal physically and psychologically painful.

Orbitofrontal cortex represents emotion and reward in decision making. Due to its influence, we are predisposed to make a decision in favor of what feels good, whether it's eating, exercising, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Why is it important to attend relapse programs?

Addiction treatment centers help people recover by combining a variety of methods including medical detox and behavioral therapy, however, getting off the drug and learning how to cope with life issues without it doesn't mean complete recovery. Without proper control and support, many patients tend to relapse after leaving treatment, especially within the first year of completing the program. Relapse is a complex process and usually happens in stages.

Emotional relapse

Emotional relapse manifests in bottling up emotions, isolating at group meetings or not attending them altogether, focusing on other people's problems while denying one's own thinking about using, poor eating and sleeping habits. During this stage, individuals remember their last relapse and don't wish to repeat it, although they may experience self-neglect, specifically lack of emotional, psychological and physical care for themselves.

Mental relapse

During a mental relapse, individuals experience constant internal fighting. Part of them resists the relapse, but part of them wants to start using again. Mental relapse is characterized by an intense craving for drugs or alcohol, looking for relapse opportunities or planning a relapse. Some individuals bargain with themselves by thinking of situations when it would be acceptable to use or drink, for example during a holiday or as a reward for some achievement. Sometimes bargaining makes people think they can control their relapse and only use periodically or occasionally.

Physical relapse

This final stage is sometimes divided by medical professionals into a “lapse” and a “relapse”. During a lapse, individuals have the first drink or use drugs for the first time after the treatment, and a relapse is characterized by the beginning of uncontrolled using. Most physical relapses occur when the person encounters a trigger, and the temptation is high, while the risk of getting caught is low. Sometimes people think it's enough to just say no before they're about to use, but that's an indication of a prolonged stage of mental relapse that only gets worse with the course of time and frequently results in the development of obsessive thought about using.

What does relapse prevention include?

Drug rehab centers apply cognitive therapy to help patients develop healthy coping mechanisms and correct responses to triggers and change their negative or self-deprecating thinking. Below are some of the critical points that receive special focus during various stages of a relapse.

  • It is important that individuals learn to be kind to themselves and take care of their basic needs, such as sleep, healthy diet, personal hygiene, and emotional self-care. The main goal of therapy at this point is to help patients recognize when they feel exhausted or too caught up in daily affairs, and put time aside for themselves.
  • A lot of people feel bad about remembering their past experience of using and feel ashamed of thinking about drugs or alcohol. Therapy aims to help them understand that such occasional thoughts are normal and don't mean that they will end up in a relapse. It is also necessary to build appropriate coping skills in order to let go of such thoughts quickly.
  • Individuals frequently find it hard to identify high-risk situations because of denial or an idea that avoiding provocative environments is a sign of weakness. In therapy, people walk through such risky scenarios, rehearse possible outcomes and develop healthy exit strategies.

Addiction is a condition that is often impossible to overcome on your own. Sometimes seeking professional help might be scary, but it's a crucial first step, and there are many services that can help you find the most suitable drug rehab center. The path to recovery is different for everyone and doesn't end in the doorway of a treatment facility, but the result is undeniably worth it.

About the Author

Thanush Poulsen is a health blogger from Denmark who is concerned about public health. Considering the rising number of drug addicts all over the world, Thanush tries to increase people's awareness of this issue.

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