Relapse is something that can be common among people who are trying to heal from substance use. The key to preventing it from happening is to consider the factors that influence addiction in the first place. Identifying the underlying triggers that can influence relapse, such as environment, stress, and overall health, can empower you to make choices that will help you continue to heal healthily.
One of the most important things to remember about addiction is that it’s a disease, not a conscious choice. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirms, “The initial decision to take drugs is typically voluntary. However, with continued use, a person’s ability to exert self-control can become seriously impaired. This impairment in self-control is the hallmark of addiction.”
Furthermore, NIDA explains, “Addiction affects multiple brain circuits, including those involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and inhibitory control over behavior. That is why addiction is a brain disease.”
Additionally, addiction is typically a symptom of something deeper, like a mental disorder. Depression, anxiety disorders, and unresolved trauma can contribute to the reason that someone uses substances. Substances are often used as a way to self-medicate uncomfortable emotions or physical pain due to mental unrest and stress. NIDA reiterates, “Some people with disorders like anxiety or depression may use drugs in an attempt to alleviate psychiatric symptoms. This may exacerbate their mental disorder in the long run, as well as increase the risk of developing addiction.”
When two diagnoses influence each other and make both worse, they are referred to as co-occurring disorders. Co-occurring disorders can heavily influence initial substance use, as well as relapse.
NIDA describes relapse as “a return to drug use after an attempt to stop.” For some people, relapse is part of the healing process. A common misconception is that relapse means all treatment and effort to heal from substance use has failed. That is not true. Relapse, similar to other chronic diseases, often means that treatment needs to be reevaluated. Factors such as relational stress, triggers, physical health, mental health, and genetics can all influence relapse.
The most important thing is to remember that relapse needs to be handled healthily. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s safe. Relapsing can become very dangerous very quickly, especially if your tolerance has changed in any way. If you are concerned about your safety (or someone else’s), don’t hesitate to contact emergency services immediately.
One factor that can influence relapse is your environment. For example, people who grow up in abusive, low-income, or single-parent households are more likely to be exposed to substances than those who are raised in a two-parent household that has open conversations about prevention.
The more accessible something is, the harder it is to avoid it. This is also true with substances. If you’re constantly surrounded by them, it’s that much harder to avoid them.
This is where it is important to recognize your triggers or what causes you to crave substances. Everyone’s triggers will be different, but it’s vital to be able to recognize them in yourself so that you can prevent putting yourself in compromising situations. This may look like avoiding places you used to use substances, staying away from people who do not support your healing journey, or changing your living situation.
It is also important to remember that your environment can influence relapse at any time, not just at the beginning of recovery. The brain can be triggered years down the road by specific details such as smells, sounds, or emotions. NIDA details, “Cues in a person’s daily routine or environment that have become linked with drug use because of changes to the reward circuit can trigger uncontrollable cravings whenever the person is exposed to these cues, even if the drug itself is not available.”
This is why healing is a lifelong journey; addiction and relapse can resurface at any time, any place. Luckily, the more you know about yourself and why you use substances, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to be able to avoid letting your environment control you.
Your environment can have a significant impact on your healing journey, either positively or negatively. Examples of environmental influences may include elements such as:
Furthermore, NIDA explains that the environment can influence the way our genes function, “Environmental factors such as chronic stress, trauma, or drug exposure can induce stable changes in gene expression, which can alter functioning in neural circuits and ultimately impact behavior.”
Your overall health status can also significantly influence relapse. Factors such as stress, physical health, and mental health are all intertwined and can heavily impact your ability to make choices. Furthermore, chronic, long-term substance use can lead to permanent brain damage. As a result, the ability to make healthy choices can be compromised.
This is where it is vital to have regular check-ins with your care team. Your care team may look different as time goes on. Sometimes you may need regular appointments with a licensed professional counselor (LPC). Other times, you may need to see your primary care physician regularly to regulate medications and ensure that your routine is healthy and safe for your body.
Here at Sage Recovery, we know how discouraging it can be to experience relapse, no matter how long you’ve been in recovery. That’s why our masters-level clinicians are on standby, ready to walk alongside you every step of the way. Our entire staff is here to help you heal healthily with our customized treatment plans, counseling services, and innovative treatment options.
No matter where you’re at in your recovery journey, we’re here to help. Here at Sage Recovery, we believe it’s never too late to ask for help. As a result, we offer multiple treatment programs so you can heal in the way that best suits you. Whether you need outpatient care, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient care, or residential treatment, we’ve got you covered. We’ll be able to customize a treatment plan so you can heal healthily. Your healing journey may include evidence-based treatments like CBT, DBT, or EMDR. It may also include more innovative approaches like equine therapy, nature immersion, or wellness groups. We’re here for whatever you need. Reach out to us at (512) 306-1394 when you’re ready.