Relapse prevention is an essential component of drug treatment, with techniques and systems initiated during residential and aftercare programs. Relapse prevention is largely based on cognitive and behavioral principles, with some treatment programs also helping patients with the practical aspects of recovery.
Relapse prevention is both an outcome and a transgression of the recovery process, with most treatment regimens approaching relapse as a process with a number of separate stages. While detox enables the cessation of drug use and behavior therapy treats the underlying causes of addiction, relapse prevention promotes a sustainable and long-term recovery.
If you or a loved one are worried about future relapse back into addiction, please call Drug Treatment Centers Stamford at (203) 883-9243.
Relapse is also known as recidivism, a term used to define the recurrence of a past medical condition. In the context of drug and alcohol treatment, relapse takes place when someone returns to drug use following a period of abstinence. Drug abuse and dependence are both learned behaviors, with patients adjusting to continual drug intake through neuronal adaptations in the brain.
The drugs with the highest pharmacological efficacy, and those that induce the highest tolerance, produce the most severe tendency for relapse. Relapse is an extremely common outcome for drug abuse and dependence, with rates of relapse similar to those for other chronic diseases. In order to break the bonds of addiction on a long-term basis, patients need to create new neuronal connections through discontinuation and psychotherapy.
Relapse is often understood as a series of progressive stages, with emotional relapse representing the first stage. At the start of the recidivism process, individuals are not yet thinking about returning to drug use. Common signs of this stage include mood swings, anger, frustration, irritability, depression, anxiety and not asking for help. Patients are often completely unaware of these signs as they occur, which is why it’s so important for recovering addicts to stay engaged with formal treatment.
Mental relapse marks the next step, with this stage recognized by confusing and often contradictory mental states. The recovering addict may feel lost during this stage, because they are actively thinking about relapsing, yet still engaged with the recovery process. Common signs of this stage include spending time with old friends, romanticizing past drug use, thinking about relapse, and planning relapse scenarios. Patients need to learn new psychological skills in order to avoid making impulsive and compulsive decisions during this stage. Physical relapse is the last stage, with this step marking a breakdown of the recovery process.
Many of the techniques and strategies used in relapse prevention can be understood as a form of mindfulness. In order to avoid impulsive behavior, recovering addicts need to become aware of how their thoughts and feelings influence the decision making process. Mindfulness includes a range of techniques that help patients pay attention to their sensations, thoughts and feelings, with typical methods based on cognitive and behavioral principles. Growing scientific literature demonstrates the importance of emotion regulation and mindfulness, with acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) one example of a system that uses this approach.
Practical support also plays an important role in relapse prevention, with patients helped with living arrangements, job skills and employment. While psychological programs help recovering addicts to recognize triggers, avoid high risk situations and develop new coping skills, everyday life concerns are just as important to the recovery process. Patients are much less likely to relapse if they have access to stable accommodation and employment, with practical family relationships also influencing relapse rates.