Local Numbers TN: 931-272-3007 PA: 717-969-9139    Get a free, confidential consultation. 844-876-7680

For many people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, getting sober will be the most challenging thing they ever have to do. But gaining sobriety isn’t the end of the story. Trying to maintain sobriety over a lifetime is often an even bigger challenge. 

Many substance abusers in recovery will relapse. This means they start abusing drugs or alcohol again or re-engaging in addictive behaviors, like gambling. When addicts repeat this cycle of recovery and relapse, it is known as chronic relapse. Let’s explore what chronic relapse involves, why it occurs and what can be done to treat and prevent it. 

What Is Chronic Relapse?four patients sit in front of a standing counselor in a chronic relapse treatment center

Chronic drug relapse is a continuous cycle of addiction and sobriety. Chronic relapsers may stay sober days, months or years before relapsing. They often make several attempts at sobriety but find themselves back at the bar, visiting a street dealer or in treatment after relapsing time and time again.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Relapse

It’s crucial to be aware of the signs of chronic relapse to ensure that you or a loved one avoids falling into a pattern of addiction. When these symptoms occur, it calls for healthy coping mechanisms, not self-medication with drugs or alcohol. 

The three main stages of chronic relapse following addiction treatment outline the emotional, mental and physical symptoms. 

  • Experiencing emotional difficulties. This can include anxiety, anger, irritability, low mood and a feeling of emptiness. A person may also begin to experience changes in sleeping and eating habits as a result of these emotional states. These changes put a person in recovery at risk of relapse because their instinct may be to manage their pain with alcohol or drugs.
  • Cravings to use again. This is the mental warning sign of possible relapse. When a former addict has cravings, they may struggle to stop thoughts and urges to use. They may imagine the process of using, the relief they would feel and how much they miss the high from drugs or alcohol.
  • Actually using the substance again. As soon as a person in recovery uses a substance again, they put themselves at high risk of addiction. Using illicit drugs or alcohol again can set off intense cravings, resulting in persistent drug abuse and—eventually—addiction. 

There are other signs of chronic relapse that you or a loved one can pick up on. These include:

  • Romanticizing drug use (i.e. when a person looks back fondly on their past drug use, viewing it in a positive light)
  • A person believing that they can use again without becoming addicted
  • Increased isolation
  • Avoidance of a support system
  • A person not pursuing interests and hobbies they picked up in recovery
  • Someone doubting the effectiveness of recovery

Why Do People Relapse into Addictions?

Many people struggle with chronic relapse because they have mental health conditions that go untreated. While these people may be able to kick their habit, the underlying causes of their addiction remain. These causes may include depression, anxiety and PTSD. Until a person enters therapy or counseling and learns how to manage their emotional pain, there will always be the risk that they will relapse. 

Another reason why substance abusers in recovery may relapse is because their genetics make them more vulnerable to addiction. For example, there are genetic markers for traits like impulsivity. People who are more impulsive than the general population are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, even if this results in long-term negative outcomes. 

Brain imaging studies have also shown that people with fewer dopamine receptors are more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol than others. Dopamine is a chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure (among other things). If you have a relative lack of dopamine, it’s more likely that you’ll rely on drugs or alcohol in order to feel a normal level of pleasure that others may get from everyday activities.  

Chronic relapse is also more likely to occur if the environment that contributed to an individual’s addiction doesn’t change following recovery. Stress is a strong predictor of addiction relapse. And one’s environment or life situation can be a big source of stress. If you recover from addiction but return to a triggering environment or life situation, then you are at an increased risk of relapse. 

Who Is at Risk of Becoming a Chronic Relapser?

Chronic relapse can happen to anyone, although certain groups of people are at a higher risk of relapsing again and again. You may be more likely to struggle with chronic addiction if:

 

  • You have stressful life circumstances (e.g. chronic health issues, poverty, unemployment or stressful employment, toxic relationships, an unstable homelife, etc.)
  • You suffer from a mental health condition
  • You are a victim of childhood abuse, trauma or neglect
  • You have a family history of addiction or alcoholism
  • You have fewer dopamine receptors compared to the general population
  • You have an impulsive personality

 

 

When you don’t learn how to deal with the above situations without drugs or alcohol, you will be at risk of chronic relapse. 

Relapse Rate by Substance

Different substances have different relapse rates. Here are the relapse rates for some of the most commonly abused drugs: 

  • Alcohol: 40-60% within a year
  • Methamphetamine: 61% within a year
  • Cocaine: 65-70% within 90 days
  • Heroin: 90% within a year

The Cycle of Addiction and Chronic Relapse

Many recovering addicts fall into a cycle of addiction and chronic relapse, which often follows this pattern:

  • Drug use and abuse
  • Tolerance and dependence
  • Addiction
  • Contemplating treatment
  • Completing addiction treatment
  • Relapse

Relapse then leads to drug abuse, and so on. This process keeps repeating until you get to the root of your addiction and find alternative methods for resolving those issues. 

Recognizing Addiction as a Chronic Disease

Addiction should be recognized as a chronic disease. This means that an addict who has achieved sobriety still suffers from addiction. Addiction is a chronic health condition they live with, whether they are using or not. Drug addiction shares many features in common with other chronic illnesses, such as:

  • A tendency to run in families (hereditary)
  • An onset and course that relates to one’s environment and behavior
  • An ability to respond well to treatment, including lifestyle changes
  • Relapse is common

Chronic Relapse Treatment 

Like cardiovascular disease, you can treat chronic relapse by following a healthy lifestyle. This includes things like:

  • Staying active in healthy activities, such as sports
  • Eating a balanced diet, high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and low in processed foods
  • Stress management techniques, such as meditation and yoga

There are other vital steps to breaking the cycle of chronic relapse:

  • Long-term evidence-based treatment
  • Multiple episodes of customized care
  • Ongoing support with sober living and aftercare
  • Continuing use of sober support groups

Treatments for chronic relapse take place at The Ranch’s state-of-the-art rehab facilities in Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Our drug rehab centers will provide you with a comfortable, home-like setting. During your stay, you will also receive care and attention from a warm, empathetic and highly experienced drug rehab team. The Ranch’s addiction treatment centers offer the most effective treatments available for the goal of achieving long-term recovery. 

Chronic Relapse Prevention

If you go into rehab for drugs or alcohol, you should also have a chronic relapse prevention plan in place. This plan should include:

  • A list of triggers and a specific plan to deal with each of them should they arise
  • A step-by-step plan describing what you will do if you relapse
  • A list of family members, friends, sponsors and counselors that you can call if you feel like you might relapse
  • Goals for a healthy and sober lifestyle  

Your chronic relapse prevention shouldn’t stay static. It should change depending on your emotional and mental states and whether new triggers or goals arise. Any effective prevention strategy must also prioritize your mental health. Getting to the root of your addiction is essential to avoiding relapse. By working with a therapist or counselor, you can find out why you feel the urge to self-medicate and how you can manage emotional difficulties through therapy, lifestyle modification and connection with others.

Addiction is a disease of the brain. It is tough to tackle, but the right treatment and a commitment to getting better can end the chronic relapse cycle. Call us for a free and confidential assessment. Learn why this time will be different.

Speak with a recovery advisor now.
Call 844-876-7680 or contact us for more information.

logo