In my many years working in the field of chemical dependency it is well known that there is a high relapse rate within the alcohol/drug abuse subculture. I have found significant factors involved in a chemically dependent persons relapse. A large portion of these factors are lack of appropriate education on addiction, which can lead to a poor understanding of relapse. In order to understand the relapse process we must develop a clear understanding of addictive disease. Education on addictions should include addictive chemicals, addictive disease as a bio-psycho-social illness, the addiction cycle, progression, loss of control, denial in association with delusional thinking, protracted withdrawal management, relapse proneness and motivation for recovery.
I use the term “Restoration” in my current approach to treating chemical dependency because there are misconceptions about outcomes in treatment. Some think life will be bland without alcohol and/or drugs. Some think life will be outrageously ecstatic. These are outcomes that can manifest but are not the rule of thumb. The recovery outcomes are determined by the individual’s efforts at applying the gained recovery tools. Self help is exactly what it says. A good treatment or recovery program will teach an addicted person to help themselves so they will reap the benefits of recovery and not give credit to whoever is helping them. The goal of treatment and recovery is to learn to live comfortably in their newly restored life.
When I was new in this field I thought recovery worked for people who needed it, then I saw people who needed it go back out. I then thought recovery worked for people who wanted it, then I saw people who wanted recovery go back out. I have since changed my stance on this and now understand recovery works for people who work it. I have never seen a person who is actually working a program of recovery relapse, for example I have never seen a person who has just chaired a sobriety based support group meeting go to the liquor store or seek drugs while participating in recovery service work. A treatment or recovery program is really only as good as their patients. What I mean by this is we can present recovery to an individual but they must grasp it and use the direction given to succeed. The old adage of “no magic wands” in recovery is true. Recovery is about action, action and more action.
There are relapse patterns in recovery that are associated with time frames. People relapse in early recovery within the first year. I believe if a person can stay clean and sober for a year they may have a chance at two years. If a person can stay sober for two years they may have a chance at long term recovery. Relapse is also common at 5 years and 10 years sobriety which can be contributed to untreated intermittent or degenerative protracted withdrawal. The issue here is again lack of appropriate information on addictive disease as an illness. A significant factor during these time frames is after acute withdrawal from an addiction there are long term sobriety based symptoms associated with protracted withdrawal or post acute withdrawal. The symptoms occur from the damage done to the brain, central nervous system and the healing process. It takes time for the brain and body to heal. These symptoms are alcohol/drug craving, unclear thinking, short term memory problems, emotional problems, sleep disturbances, physical coordination problems and a high sensitivity to stress. Relapse and relapse proneness is not a recovery issue it is treatment issue because relapse is about the illness and not about the solution. Learning to identify and manage these symptoms will reduce the potential for relapse.
The family component is vital in recovery because treating addictive disease is incomplete if the family and other relationship issues aren’t addressed. In normal situations, families try to take care of each other, especially in times of illness. But what happens when the alcoholic or addict not only refuses help and appears to go out of their way to hurt and upset others. Most people in this situation will endeavor to try harder to get the result they want – which is to stop the drinking or using. It’s one of life’s ironies that the harder they try, the worse it seems to get. Everyone involved is caught in a vicious cycle and feels trapped. When one family member stops playing their part in the vicious cycle, others eventually have to do so. More than often it’s the alcoholic or addict who faces their fear of change first, and the family initially breathes a sigh of relief. In recovery, each family member must become proactive against their role in addiction and learn to become their true self. The goal is for each person to become independent, and then approach substance addiction recovery as a group of individuals, rather than as people playing a part. Whole, independent people can freely contribute to the recovery of the person overcoming the addiction, while a person playing a part can only perform the role. Family involvement eventually promotes family healing and restoration.
Spirituality is a major element in recovery from addictive chemicals. Some say addiction is a spiritual malady. Quite often it is thought that recovery is about controlling their addiction therefore in early recovery some try and control their recovery through self will. Control is not part of the solution in recovery; it is part of the problem of addiction. Control is not an asset it is a liability to addiction. If someone could have controlled their use they would have done it already. If trying to control an addiction is a problem then letting go of an addiction is a solution. Letting Go! Is a personal spiritual issue that only an individual can develop them self. Some believe in God, Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Some believe in a Higher Power or power greater than themselves. Some believe in one God as a Supreme Being or spirit of the universe. Some believe a support group can be spiritual for them. For some, the word GOD as an acronym “Good Orderly Direction” works for them. Recovery can also include those who are atheist or agnostic. If you really think about it, in order to let go of something stronger than you as an addiction is. It needs to be greater than you. I won’t go further with this topic because it really is an individual’s choice to believe in what they want. I am happy that the door is wide in recovery about this because addiction can be an equal opportunity destroyer therefore recovery welcomes people from all walks of life.
Recovery can sometimes sound like an old country western song played backwards where the wife and kids return, the dog comes home, the horse lets you ride him again and you don’t take that job and shove it after all. Recovery is more of a restoration meaning restoring to an improved condition. The family, pets, jobs and important relationships can not only return but they will be in an improved condition. I believe this is the true goal of treatment and recovery from chemical dependency as an improved condition to a new life that benefits everyone involved. Take the time to do some soul searching of your condition and ask yourself a few important questions. Does your condition need to be improved? Do you want your condition to be improved? Are you willing to take the action necessary to achieve an improved condition? If so please understand addiction is a treatable illness. It is never too late to begin the “Restoration” of your life.
By Arthur W. Schubert Masters Level Registered Addiction Specialist
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