There is no one-size-fits-all method for addiction treatment. Some people will respond well to one technique, while others will need an entirely different approach.

Fortunately, treatment for substance use disorders is delivered in a variety of settings throughout the United States. Most settings utilize multiple approaches that include medication and behavioral therapy, and they share the same goal of promoting balance without substance use.

Relapse is often part of the recovery process. There are steps you can take immediately following a relapse to prevent another one from happening.

Addiction Treatment in the United States

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that because of the complexity of addiction and the wide range of challenges it causes people, treatment must involve many different components. The services required will vary from person to person, but having them available is essential to providing a holistic treatment plan.

Components of comprehensive drug abuse treatment include:

  • Medical services
  • Mental health services
  • Vocational services
  • Educational services
  • Child care services
  • Family services
  • Housing and transportation services
  • Financial services
  • Legal services
  • HIV/AIDS treatment services

Not every treatment setting can provide all of the above services, but they should be able to take into consideration the wide range of needs of each person entering treatment. If services can’t be directly provided at the treatment facility, appropriate referrals to outside providers should be made.

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is completed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 20 million people needed treatment for a substance use disorder in 2017. One in 13 people, aged 12 and older, was struggling with some form of drug addiction. 

Only a fraction of the people who need addiction treatment actually receive it. Of the more than 20 million people struggling with substance abuse in 2017, only around 4 million received any form of substance abuse treatment. About 2.5 million of those people received treatment at a specialty facility, which is only about 12 percent of the people who really needed specific addiction treatment services.

Rates of Drug Relapse

With so few people receiving the specialty addiction treatment services they need, it is not surprising that rates of drug relapse are relatively high. According to NIDA, the percentage of people who relapse following drug addiction treatment is between 40 percent and 60 percent. This number is comparable to the relapse of symptoms that occurs in people trying to manage other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma. 

Substance abuse and mental health professionals argue that addiction treatment must be approached in the same way as the treatment of chronic diseases. When your asthma flares up, and you need treatment for it, it is not considered a failure, but rather a regular part of managing the disease.

Addiction treatment is the same. When someone relapses, it is not a failure of treatment or the individual, but simply an indication that further services or changes to current management techniques are needed.

What to Do Immediately After a Drug Relapse

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Immediately after a drug relapse, determine the severity of the situation. You must assess if medical intervention is needed in the case of an overdose, for example, or if supportive measures are enough to help the person come down from the substance they’re on and focus on recovery. 

One of the greatest risks of a drug relapse is an overdose. When people relapse, they may return to their last known levels of drug use, unaware of how much their tolerance for the substance went down during sobriety.

If someone has overdosed, call for emergency medical help right away. Their condition must first be stabilized before they can focus on recovery once again. 

Once the person is medically stable, activate their support network. In previous stages of recovery, the individual likely established a solid support network consisting of friends, family members, peers, and counselors who could be called upon in times of need. The time following a drug relapse is particularly sensitive and exactly when this support network is needed to help the individual get back on track. 

Identify Warning Signs

Each time a relapse occurs, it gives the individual the opportunity to learn more about their relationship with substance abuse.

After you have recovered from a relapse, there are several steps you can take to prevent another relapse from happening. These steps begin by analyzing the time leading up to the relapse and identifying any warning signs. 

Warning signs that a relapse may be on your horizon include:

  • A change in your attitude about the need to participate in your ongoing recovery program
  • Elevated stress levels and overreacting to both positive and negative situations 
  • Denial about how much stress is affecting you and trying to convince yourself that everything is fine
  • Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia that may tempt you to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol
  • Changes to the set routine you established in sobriety
  • Social withdrawal and making excuses not to participate in social events
  • Loss of decision-making abilities and a shift toward making poor decisions
  • Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, lonely, and not being able to relax
  • Declining attendance at support groups, missed meetings with your therapist or counselor, or skipping doses of medications that aid your recovery
  • Denial about how much alcohol or drugs really affect you and believing you can drink or use drugs socially with no problem
  • A loss in your confidence to successfully manage your own life

Any combination of the above warning signs indicates that you may be trending toward a drug relapse. Relapse does not happen in a single instant; it develops over time. By identifying warning signs early, you can take active steps to change your course of behavior and prevent a relapse from happening.

How to Prevent Another Relapse

In addition to increasing awareness about your particular warning signs of a drug relapse, there are things you can do to prevent a relapse from happening again. Some strategies to help you avoid relapse in the long-term include:

  • Avoiding triggers, including people, places, and things that lead you to use substances
  • Taking advantage of clinical and non-clinical support networks
  • Participating in activities that are meaningful to you
  • Maintaining a focus on self-care and keeping a balanced lifestyle
  • Staying focused on your short-term and long-term sobriety goals

Living Free from Substances

For someone with a history of substance abuse, living substance-free is far easier said than done. Maintaining sobriety is a challenging process that will inevitably have some bumps along the road.

If you have relapsed, don’t focus on the shame or guilt you may feel. Instead, focus on the constructive steps that can be made toward regaining sobriety.

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