Relapse: Picking up my old habits

At Eden Recovery and Rehabilitation our dedicated team aim daily to help those who crave a second chance. Addiction as we know destroys many lives not just the addict’s. At Eden we believe that it is the addict infecting their bodies with their substance of choice. This selfish behaviour ultimately affects those around them, often quite dramatically. However many of these users go on to have massive success in their recovery. They prove to themselves and those around them that they are not defined by their past actions. This metamorphic process for me as a therapist is probably one of the most special moments that I have the privilege to see.

However sometimes these willing and motivated individuals stumble and fall along the recovery road. We refer to this as a relapse. This relapse is often so terrible because the addict has instilled hope in those around him or her unknowingly. When an addict is admitted for treatment the mood is predictably gloomy, but with hope growing. The family and friends eagerly await the changed person to exit the gates of the treatment centre. Thus when a relapse occurs this hope drops down twice as hard as before treatment. The families and friends are disappointed and often eject the addict out of their lives for good. Unfortunately relapse is often part of the journey. Note relapse is part of the journey, but the addict’s journey should by no means be defined by constant relapse.

Relapse doesn’t just happen with the individual using their substance again, this process can happen weeks if not months before they actually physically use something. The families often see the process of relapse as impulsive, and this is not true at all. Relapse consists out of three very important and interconnected stages.

Stage one is known as emotional relapse. During this stage the recovering addict is not actively pursuing thoughts of using or drinking again. This stage is known for its confusing factors. The recovering addict can actively recall the last time they used but they don’t what to repeat this excursion. The ironic thing is that their emotions and behaviours at the time may be putting their recovery at risk. Some of the warning signs I have dealt with include:

  • Not being in touch with their emotions
  • Focus more on the behaviours and problems of others, and not seeing their own, defensiveness
  • They are not attending any recovery meetings, and if they are they are not present emotionally.
  • Sleep difficulties often set in
  • Eating patterns are poor, irregular or even excessive
  • Unexplained anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Isolation
  • Anger

The second stage is known as mental relapse. If the recovering addict does not find help before this stage ends, they will most likely relapse. Mental relapse is associated with the back and forth movement of using and not using. In other words parts of the brain want to use and another part wants to stay sober. At Eden we believe the longer the addict stays in the stage the stronger the carvings will get. This stage is often accompanied by:

  • Lying
  • A strong desire to use and not use at the same time
  • Romanticising past use
  • Scouting for opportunities to use
  • They minimize possible consequences
  • Start socializing with old friends with whom they used

Stage three of relapse is referred to as physical relapse. This is where the part of the brain that wanted to stay sober lost the battle. The recovering addict is no longer in recovery and has taken up their old habits. This stage carries so much emotion and devastation. It goes without saying that this stage is quite excruciating for some, but by no means the end. Some patients only relapse once and realize what truly is important and they move on for the better. This sounds counterproductive but often this is exactly what that person needs to ensure a successful recovery.

Not every patient relapses during their recovery journey. However just because some do, doesn’t mean that they have failed in recovery and by no means does it mean they should give up. I have had the privilege to work with addicts that relapsed can came out stronger from that one event than others in two years of recovery. There is a recovery quote that truly resonates with me and it reads, “I am not defied by my relapses, but by my decision to stay in recovery despite them”.

-Shaun Pyper, Therapist, Eden Rehabilitation & Recovery Centre (011) 244 9916