What Causes Addicts To Relapse?

Why Addicts Keep Using?

One of the greatest misconceptions about drug addiction may be that willpower can win the day. You know firsthand that this isn’t true if you’re personally wrestling with an addiction, but if you’re watching a loved one suffer, you may find yourself secretly wishing that he had more willpower. The National Institute of Drug Abuse indicates that relapse after treatment is more common than not without ongoing monitoring and adjustments to a patient’s treatment plan.

Addiction Changes the Brain

The effect of substance abuse on the brain is one of the most causative factors in relapse. Research has established that drug usage alters the brain in numerous ways, typically rendering an individual incapable of controlling the impulse and need to use the drug. He may want to exert willpower but, in fact, his brain will not allow him to do so, at least not without treatment, intervention and support. These changes to the brain may linger for years after an addict has last used a substance, so the compulsion to use may be there for some considerable time. An actively using addict will typically succumb to these urges at the cost of everything dear in his life, whereas a recovered addict can learn responses to the urges to help keep them under control.

Triggers Can Upset the Balance

When an addict is walking a tightrope between using and not using, certain events and memories can nudge him off on the side of using. These are called triggers and the addict is often unaware of them or that they have occurred, at least without treatment that can help him identify them. A trigger might be a particular odor, a location or an old friend. Fear of not using can be a trigger as well. An addict may use because the prospect of how he feels without the drug in his system is terrifying, or because he’s heard horror stories of withdrawal that he simply doesn’t want to face.

Concurrent Issues Can Cause Relapse

Stress or an underlying mental illness can act as triggers to begin using, although treatment often addresses such illnesses in conjunction with the addiction. It may also teach responses to manage stress. Relapse and using again may are more likely if the concurrent condition is not treated and controlled, through counseling, medication or both.

Relapse Is Not the End

The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses that treatment — not willpower — is the single most powerful tool against ongoing addiction. Treatment may be long-term and you or your loved one may experience occasional relapses. Such events don’t mean that treatment has failed. They mean that adjustments are necessary to some component of the treatment plan so you or a loved one can do better next time. When that component is adjusted, the addict may go on to enjoy long-term recovery. Support groups, particularly those that make use of sponsors, can provide a safety net in times of potential relapse.