Most people, if asked, would describe life as a journey rather than a race to the end. Whether someone’s a millionaire or just scraping by, life’s ultimate destination is the same for everyone. Sobriety’s similar. For addicts, getting sober isn’t the end – it’s a condition which must be managed constantly by learning new behaviors and avoiding relationships which could trigger old habits. That sounds simple, especially if someone’s never tried it, but it isn’t. For someone with a substance abuse disorder, staying sober is tough work and requires full-time effort by the patient and those around them to stick to their treatment and avoid relapse.
Relapse: a word hanging over the head of anyone who’s ever been in treatment. While yes, relapse is something to be resisted and avoided, it’s not the end of the road. Relapses happen but relapses can be dealt with and life moves on afterward. Unfortunately, this time of the year can be a season for relapse.
Addiction is a chronic disease where stress plays a role
It’s important to remember – and occasionally remind others – that addiction is a chronic disease and with any chronic disease, relapses happen. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports addiction has a relapse rate of 40 to 60 percent, a rate higher than that of type I diabetes. Relapses have physical and mental causes, and treating chronic diseases requires changing behaviors which are often strongly ingrained. Take diabetes as an example – a diabetic whose blood sugar suddenly spikes isn’t looked at as a moral failure; they reassess their habits and try new ways to manage their disease.
The mental causes of relapses make the holidays difficult for addicts. Despite the festivity of the season, the American Psychological Association shows the holidays can increase stress levels in some people. Even family get-togethers can create sizeable amounts of stress. Finally, newly sober people often have their own stresses from concerns about goals and facing unfamiliar situations without the insulation of drugs.
This is also a time of year when it’s very easy to get exposed to alcohol. Holiday parties go hand-in-hand with drinks, and even well-meaning people can unintentionally pressure sober people into having just one, which often is all it takes. Sometimes not drinking can make people feel guilty or left out, especially if they’re the only sober person in their group. Writing for PsychCentral.com, Drew Edwards, who holds a doctorate in education and a master’s in science, outlines several risks and strategies sober people – or people looking to drink mindfully — can use to resist temptation and avoid relapse. People who are celebrating can do their part by remembering their friend’s choice to not drink can have serious reasons behind it.
Relapse isn’t failure in the slightest. It’s a sign that treatment methods need adjusting. It can also mean perhaps a different treatment method should be tried; good treatment providers understand addiction is a very personal disease. Success for one patient won’t necessarily equal success for another.
Like life, sobriety is going to have good and bad days. Everyone experiences progress and setbacks. Don’t let the occasional setback ruin your hard work – pick yourself up and continue the journey.
The Sovereign Health Group is a leading provider of addiction and mental health treatment. Our dual diagnosis approach treats co-occurring conditions effectively and scientifically, allowing people dealing with substance abuse and mental disorders to live long, fulfilling lives. If you or a loved one is dealing with addiction or mental health problems, please call our 24/7 helpline today.
Written by Brian Moore, Sovereign Health Group writer