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Drug addiction is a devastating and harmful condition affecting people all over the world. In fact, the Open Society Foundation reports that an estimated 23.5 million Americans – just over 7 percent of the US population – currently struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Though some individuals will struggle with addiction throughout their lives, it is possible to recover with the help of a comprehensive treatment plan. Every day, many people leave rehab facilities with a new lease on life, aiming to stay sober one day at a time. Even so, addiction is a tough disease to overcome, and it is possible to fall victim to a relapse.
What is relapse? Simply put, it is the recurrence of a disease or condition that had gone into recovery. When individuals relapse after being treated for addiction, they often begin using their addictive substance of choice once again.
Although it is important to prevent relapse, it’s also important to recognize that relapse does not mean the person has failed to recover. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that drug relapse occurs in 40-60 percent of individuals, making it a more common struggle than one might think.
If you, or someone you know, are newly sober, it is critically important that you know the signs of an impending relapse. These symptoms include:
For some individuals, drug abuse is a way to cope with emotional trauma or psychological conditions like depression and anxiety. Once someone goes through treatment and stops using drugs, they are forced to deal with these issues in a new (and sometimes painful) way.
Coping with this emotional anguish can make a person moody and resentful. They may isolate themselves from friends and family or lash out at them in anger. This behavior is a sign that they are struggling with their new sobriety and that they might be heading toward relapse.
Psychology Today describes a “dry drunk” as someone who has stopped engaging in addictive behavior (like drinking or using drugs) but continues to live as an addict psychologically. They may be lazy, irritable, and quick to anger, often pushing away the very people who are trying to help them recover.
Dry drunk syndrome can occur at any time during the journey to recovery, and it doesn’t always lead to relapse. However, it is a sign of psychological stress and should be taken seriously to prevent the person from picking up their old habits.
According to the University of South Florida, hobbies like sports, reading, and crafting are effective ways to prevent drug relapse. This is because they occupy a person’s time, keeping them from indulging thoughts of their previous drug use.
It is critical – particularly in the first months after treatment, when one’s sobriety is more fragile – that a person in recovery stays active, busy, and close with their support network. If they suddenly lose interest in their favorite hobbies or social activities, it is possible that they are beginning to step away from their recovery.
The journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience credits long-term substance abuse with neurological changes that can undermine a person’s self-control. This might be why individuals in recovery sometimes see their drug abuse through rose-colored glasses, remembering the fun they had instead of the damage it caused.
When someone starts romanticizing the time before their sobriety, they can wind up following that line of thinking right back to their drug of choice. If they begin visiting friends they used to do drugs with or talking constantly about the fun times they had while high, it’s possible that they are moving in the direction of a relapse.
If someone who is recovering from an addiction begins to exhibit these signs, it is possible that they are on the brink of a relapse. During this time, it is more important than ever that they seek out support, be it from a friend, sponsor, psychologist, or addiction specialist. Remember that relapse is preventable, and even if it does occur, it is possible to recover from it and reclaim sobriety.