Substance abuse is a dangerous disease of the brain and mind which can easily become lethal if it is not addressed and properly treated. While some many succeed in the detoxification portion of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, the difficulty begins when people in recovery are faced with resisting the triggers and urges associated with relapsing into familiar patterns.
Michael Boland, the Chief Operating Officer for Harbor Village Detox in Miami, FL offered his insight on the matter of avoiding relapse and staying on a sober path:
“You have to keep the want; keep the want before the need.The stopping is easy; everybody stops at some point. To stay stopped is the hard part. There’s nothing so drastic in your life that is worth using again.”
Boland’s words stem from his position overseeing a rehabilitation center that serves several dozen clients on daily basis, some of whom have experienced relapse on multiple occasions. They also stem from personal experiences he had with relapses on his own hard fought journey to sobriety. Now Michael Boland has been sober for more than 15 years and he dedicates his life to helping others experience the same success.
Harbor Village Detox is devoted to helping people in recovery achieve and sustain a sober lifestyle. To do this, they must first learn to recognize the 5 major warning signs of relapse.
1: Romanticizing Past Drug Use
While the old adage says “hindsight is 20/20” it can also blur reality to create a romanticized, ideal image of what once was. This is particularly troublesome for people in recovery from substance abuse disorders as it can lead to deceptive misrememberance.
People will often relapse because their falsified memories cause them to equate substance abuse with easier times and pleasant experiences. A person in recovery who is romanticizing past use does not recall the pains and troubles wrought by their addiction; only the momentary bliss and relief of illicit substance abuse. They may convince themselves once more that their substance abuse was not a problem at all, or, that it is in fact the solution to their problems- which in turn leads to giving into temptation.
2: Using Under the False Belief of Control
Sometimes people in recovery believe that once the hard work of detox and rehabilitation is over, they have been ‘cured’ or that they can return to using without relapsing into addiction. This kind of thinking can have deadly consequences, as returning to substance abuse can lead to a fatal overdose- even if the amount used is less than the recovering user’s typical dose.
For those who survive it’s also dangerous; it’s the same toxic thought pattern as those who refuse treatment because they can ‘still function.’ Unfortunately, one time almost always leads to twice, which leads to ‘only occasionally.’ After that there’s weekend binges and blackouts that spiral into full blown addiction once again. These kinds of relapses are the result of people in recovery attempting to test their boundaries and can be accompanied with a sense of failure. It can reinforce the idea that the sufferer is not strong enough to overcome the demon of substance abuse. That is not true; relapses are a chance to start again, not a moral judgement.
3: Loss of Faith in the Recovery Process
The recovery process is slow and daunting; it is also about 80 percent up the person in recovery, while 20 percent is the type of treatment and support they receive. Recovery through rehab requires an incredible amount of faith in one’s self and the professional care provided by the rehab facility. When that faith wilts or is broken, relapse can occur.
The risk of relapse is significantly higher for those who enter rehabilitation expecting an easy fix or those who are not properly prepared for the reality of life outside of the constant supervision and support of a rehab center. When there’s a breakdown between the process and the person, resentment and distrust can form.
Losing faith in the recovery process can leave substance abuse disorder sufferers vulnerable to relapse as they struggle to find a solution to their turbulent feelings and physical cravings. It seems simpler and less painful to slip back into old habits and they have not developed the skills to cope with life without substance abuse.
Distrust in the recovery process can also lead to bitterness and resistance to future treatment. People who have relapsed because of an ineffective treatment experience may end up convinced that no course of treatment will help them and that they are simply doomed to a life of misery and addiction.
But there is hope!
If there is one truth to be heard it is this: the addicted mind lies. With humility, patience, and determination, people suffering from substance abuse disorders can recover and lead a happier healthier life. Like any disease, the risk of relapse is always there; however, with the proper mindset and tools it doesn’t have to be a reality. Being aware of the warning signs of relapse in one’s self or loved ones can save a life.