The most common cause of relapse isn’t what you would expect

Updated on April 29, 2020

The road to recovery from a substance abuse problem is a long one that comes with challenges that need to be overcome. Going through the recovery process, however, is a necessary part of starting to live a healthier life. 

Going through recovery and detoxing, only to later experience a relapse, can be very difficult and upsetting for both recovering addicts and their families. Relapses can be triggered by stress, depression, overconfidence, and unrealistic expectations. 

Some addicts attempt an at-home detox to get started on the path to recovery. However, at-home detoxes are often ineffective and can lead to relapses. Keep reading to learn about some of the reasons why an at-home detox often leads to a bad foundation for recovery. 

Withdrawal symptoms are unbearable

Withdrawal symptoms range from person to person, depending on their level of addiction, how long they used the substance, and any other medical conditions. However, for people that aren’t expecting them, withdrawal can quickly become unbearable within a few days of stopping the drug. Some addicts decide the pain isn’t worth it and return to using drugs or to drinking.  

Common withdrawal symptoms include (but are not limited to) craving the substance, nausea, headaches, trouble focusing, irritability, mood swings, and feelings of anxiety or depression. Those that try to go “cold turkey” at home are often unprepared to face these symptoms alone, which is why working with a professional is recommended. 

Withdrawal can linger

Some people can get through the initial days of withdrawal, only to find that some of the symptoms linger longer than they initially anticipated. Or, for some people, symptoms may disappear and then return at a later time. Sometimes people think they are recovered, only to find themselves struggling with withdrawal weeks later. 

Those that aren’t prepared for lingering symptoms may find themselves struggling to cope. Those that go through a medically supported detox at a clinic will go through various levels of care, including an aftercare program. During aftercare, recovering addicts will have access to support groups and 12-step programs; this can help make dealing with lingering symptoms more manageable. 

Health problems may develop

During detox, some individuals might find themselves struggling with health concerns, especially if they’re withdrawing after years of drinking or drug use, or if they’re withdrawing from multiple drugs. Some individuals might need a treatment plan where they gradually stop using a drug, instead of stopping the drug suddenly. 

Going through health problems with withdrawing can be extremely concerning and stressful. Hallucinations, uncontrollable rage, and seizures are just some of the more serious health complications that can arise. Those that are trying to detox at home might not be in a position to deal with these health complications. However, working with a professional to develop a step-by-step detox plan can help prevent medical complications. 

The underlying reason isn’t addressed

Recovering is most successful when the underlying reason behind the drinking or drug-use is addressed. Recovery isn’t just a physical process. It is also a psychological process. And if an underlying reason behind the substance abuse isn’t caught, a person is likely going to relapse at some point. 

For example, some people turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with a mental health condition. Going through a detox, but not addressing the mental health condition, means that they may be able to stop using the substance for a while. However, next time they’re going through a bad depression, they may return to drinking or drug use. 

Need to develop healthy coping mechanisms 

When addressing the underlying reason, it is also important that the recovering addict develops healthy coping mechanisms to help with triggers, both during withdrawal and afterward. This includes the ability to use positive self-talk during moments of weakness, developing new hobbies, and reminding self of the negative consequences of their addiction. 

It also means finding a supportive network, such as friends and family, as well as attending support group meetings. Many recovering addicts will use a mentor or a counselor to help work through triggering emotions. Those in recovery might find themselves struggling with triggering emotions for years, but knowing healthy coping mechanisms and having a support network can help. 

Final thoughts

Relapse during or after recovering can make recovering addicts feel angry, upset, and alone. It can also make them feel like a failure. However, keep in mind that relapse doesn’t make a recovering addict a failure. It just means that they need to find additional resources and a different method to help them with their recovery.

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