Living Beyond: WHEN IS AN ADDICT MOST LIKELY TO RELAPSE

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.

The risk of relapse is at its highest when an addict lacks support, accountability, and an ongoing relationship with a mental health professional. While the relationship with the mental professional may be for a limited time; the therapeutic process for a number of addicts should be an ongoing relationship.

The risk of recidivism is increased when healthy supports are lacking. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, the probability of returning to the addictive habit is further increased when the addict returns to his or her community. “Returning to environments associated with drug use may trigger cravings and cause a relapse.”. While judicial systems and treatment centers are comprised of an array of addictive habits and are known for being catalyst of new habits; such institutional type settings create a support system that the addict becomes accustomed to.

THE CAUSES OF RELAPSE

“Stress is often a contributing factor to relapse, and offenders who are re-entering society face many challenges and stressors, including reuniting with family members, securing housing, and complying with criminal justice supervision requirements. Even the many daily decisions that most people face can be stressful for those recently released from a highly-controlled prison environment” or treatment centers. There is a higher probability of relapse when addicts lack healthy support systems.

Moreover, the causes of relapse are not limited to unhealthy environments or the lack of support systems; addicts frequently return to the addictive habit because of its familiarity. The addictive habit is often associated with feelings of euphoria; an increase confidence or the perception of confidence; feelings of support and belonging related to fellow users; the attraction of the addictive habit; the personal physiological feelings associated with the habit; and the ability to rely upon the addictive habit.

It is rare for an addict not to have a psychological history. Even if the psychological history has its foundations in the addiction itself; there are often underlying issues that led to addiction. The most common reason for relapse is the inability to adjust to sobriety.

RELAPSING IS NOT AN INDICATION OF FAILURE

Not unlike the individual suffering from an eating disorder or disordered eating; the probability of relapse is considerably high. The addict has found comfort and personal solace from his or her chosen addiction. For many, the draw to the addiction is an intense feeling of pleasure, joy, and the overall state of euphoria.

The consequences of the addiction may vary in degree and longevity of effect depending upon the length of use and the substance being used. A majority of substances used by addicts have a dire effect upon the circuity of the brain because of the constant flooding of dopamine which is an indirect result of using the substance. Dopamine is “a compound present in the body as a neurotransmitter and a precursor of other substances including epinephrine.”

“A properly functioning reward system motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.” Therefore, the addict becomes more and more reliant on the substance to sustain a feeling of normalcy.

THE ADDICTION AND THE PSYCHOLOGICAL STIMULUS

Addicts often have a psychological catalyst that drives them towards the addiction. The choice of the addictive habit is related to convenience and an introduction to the substance. Addicts may be introduced to the substance by a family member, neighbor, peer, or someone within their community. Few individuals begin their life of addiction by seeking out a particular substance. All-to-often, the substance may be presented to them at a party, by a classmate, a work colleague or through some other related venue. It is rare to hear of someone who sought out the substance; much less even rarer to learn of someone that set out to become an addict.

Arguably, the addict is not predisposed to a particular substance, but they have a relationship to the substance. The child may have witnessed his or her parental figure partaking of the substance or alcoholic beverage while as an adolescent. Saying someone is born with a specific addictive predisposition is like saying that someone was born to be addicted to potato chips. If you have no relationship to the substance, it is highly unlikely that you will seek it out.

Psychologically, the addict may have chosen the habit to curtail and prevent negative feelings, emotions, and memories. For many individuals, these psychological issues begin in childhood. Harvard Professor Dr. Martin Teicher conducted research on 193 participants ages 18 to 25 years old. The research examined the brains of children who had been abused, neglected or maltreated. It further looked at children who were suffering from separation and bereavement. The types of abuse included verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, and vicarious trauma. Dr. Teicher’s research explained that an ongoing relationship to stress, anxiety, and depression had a direct and indirect effect upon the overall composition of the brain.

Please understand that not everyone who is an addict was abused. While there is undoubtedly a higher probability of those abused per childhood and a relationship to addictive habits; not all addicts are victims of childhood abuse. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence which indicates that those predisposed to psychological disorders and organic brain disorders have a greater probability of becoming addicts. The complexity of mental illness often drives an individual to self-medicate and to participate in risky behaviors.

PREVENTING RELAPSE

Those facing addiction are less likely to return to the addictive habit if they have the proper supports in place. Through the therapeutic process, the addict should have a clearer understanding of his or her attraction and dependency to the addictive habit. Furthermore, the addict should understand that failure is merely a roadblock challenging them, but it is not preventing them from moving forward.

Everyone will face challenges in life; it is how you approach the challenge that matters.

The addict should have a clear understanding that they may feel more vulnerable during times of extreme stress, anxiety, sorrow and pain. If so, it is of vital importance that the addict has a friend or an associate that they can rely upon to be accountable. Having an accountability partner is not a sign of weakness, rather is a sign of strength and I think everyone should have one.

HEALTHY SUPPORT SYSTEMS

What is a healthy support system? The foundations of a healthy support system is accountability. We are not giving up our freedoms by being accountable, rather we are relying upon others to help guide us and provide us constructive feedback.

A healthy support system should include being well-informed and educated on issues that matter. When we are informed, our decisions are sharper and we are less likely to make poor choices. However, be diligent to heed the constructive advice of those who are supportive of a healthy lifestyle. Remember it is easy to fall prey to those who we have a past history with.

A healthy support system should include not only our accountability partner, but it should also include a mental health professional. The mental health professional’s job should not be about establishing a lifelong patient, rather about creating a foundation that is unwavering and steadfast.

A healthy support system should never be a punitive relationship. Nor should it be to establish a posse bending at our every whim. Rather, it is about connecting with a group of individuals who genuinely care about you and your overall well-being. For everyone deserves a life filled with an abundance of happiness and joy.

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.
Website: www.asadonbrown.com
References Provided Upon Request