Getting Help for Recurring Substance Relapse

Addiction is a chronic brain disease. This means that it has long-term effects on your health and well-being. It also means that once you stop using drugs or alcohol, there is a chance that you will relapse. Relapses are common, and many people in recovery experience at least one such episode. However, some people relapse over and over again. Doctors sometimes use the term chronic relapse to refer to these recurring episodes.

Chronic relapse can have a significant impact on your mental health. To break a recurring cycle, you may need the specialized care provided by a chronic relapse treatment center. Facilities of this type can help you learn how to prevent a return to substance use. In turn, they can also help you establish a durable pattern of sobriety.

What Is Chronic Relapse

If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, your brain has undergone some long-term changes in its function. These changes cause your brain to treat substance use as the expected norm. Common indicators of this expectation include:

  • Cravings for the substance in question when you are not using it
  • Symptoms of withdrawal that appear if you quit or sharply reduce your use
  • Sensitivity to various kinds of cues that trigger your urges for drugs or alcohol

Increasing tolerance to the source of your addiction is also common. This state occurs when you gradually need more and more of a substance to feel its effects.

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When you enter a treatment program, you get the help you need to bring an initial halt to drug or alcohol use. You also get the help you need to establish the foundation for a sober lifestyle. However, neither of these things changes the nature of addiction as a chronic disease. Like any chronic illness, it can recur when it is not successfully managed.

The term relapse describes a return to substance use in someone who has stopped using them. This is not a rare event in people who have gone through treatment. In fact, experts estimate that between 40% and 60% of all people who go through treatment will relapse at least once. In chronic relapse, you do not relapse just once or twice. Instead, you experience a repeated cycle of relapsing, getting sober and relapsing again.

Varieties of Relapse: Emotional, Mental and Physical Relapse

From an outside perspective, a relapse may seem like a clearly defined, single event. This event occurs when a person who has gotten sober actually takes a drink or uses a drug. But in reality, relapses are far more complicated. Today, addiction specialists understand that they occur in a sequence of three stages:

  • Emotional relapse
  • Mental relapse
  • Physical relapse

In the emotional stage, you are not thinking about using drugs or alcohol. Instead, your conscious thoughts still center around a desire to stay sober. However, at an emotional level, you are creating circumstances that support future substance use. As a result, you take actions that make this outcome more likely. Common examples of these kinds of actions include:

  • Not going to meetings of your self-help group
  • Failing to actively participate when you do attend meetings
  • Isolating yourself socially
  • Keeping your attention focused on other people’s difficulties, not your own
  • Moving away from healthy eating, sleep or exercise habits

In the mental stage of a relapse, you are struggling between two conscious desires. On one hand, you want to stay sober. But on the other hand, you want to start using drugs or alcohol again. A variety of things may reflect this struggle, including:

  • Reminiscing about your substance-using past
  • Downplaying the negative effects of your past substance use
  • Focusing on the “good times” you had while drinking or taking drugs
  • Lying to yourself about the conflict between using and not using
  • Experiencing stronger or more frequent substance cravings
  • Thinking about ways to drink or take drugs without losing control of yourself

You may also find yourself planning out what you will do when you return to substance use. In addition, you may start actively looking for the chance to start drinking or using drugs again.

A physical relapse occurs when you act on your plans or urges to take a drink or use a drug. Your return to substance use may be plain for others to see. However, many people who relapse take steps to hide what is happening from others, at least initially.

What Are the Signs of Chronic Relapse

There is a difference between the symptoms of a relapse and the signs of a relapse. Symptoms are internal changes, and only the person affected by them knows that they are occurring. In contrast, signs are outward changes that others can potentially detect.

With these facts in mind, what are the signs of chronic relapse? The most obvious sign is a repeated occurrence of physical relapses after getting sober. But you may also notice signs that someone is once again in the emotional or mental stage of a relapse.

The specific indicators can vary from person to person. For example, you may notice someone isolating themselves socially or not attending support meetings. You may also notice someone talking fondly about drinking or taking drugs. Other potential telltale signs include increasing consumption of unhealthy foods and decreasing involvement in exercise.

How Common Is Chronic Relapse

Research shows that the number of relapses experienced by a person in recovery vary over a wide range. At one extreme, there are people who never relapse after quitting drugs or alcohol. At the other extreme, there are people who relapse as many as 100 times.

However, very few people relapse that often after going through treatment. The majority of those in recovery will relapse once, twice or not at all. Still, significant numbers of people will relapse as many as five or six times. Relatively few people relapse 20 times or more.

Certain factors may increase your relapse risks. For example, your risks go up somewhat if you are also affected by depression or an anxiety disorder. Single people and African-Americans also have slightly elevated chances of relapsing.

Do Certain Substances Lead to Relapse

Do certain substances lead to relapse more often than others? Current evidence shows that this is not the case. Your chances of relapsing are roughly the same for all forms of drug addiction. The same holds true for relapse risks and alcohol addiction.

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What Do Chronic Relapse Treatment Centers Do

Chronic relapse treatment centers focus on preventing future relapses from occurring. This requires a bit of a switch in the focus of substance recovery. What does this switch entail?

All addiction specialists know that addiction is a chronic disease characterized by relapses. This point of view is simply a reflection of reality. However, it can potentially lead to a diminished focus on the vital need to prevent relapses. This can be a big problem, because relapses have serious real-world consequences. For any given person, they can result in things such as:

  • Lost jobs
  • Lasting damage to your key relationships
  • Heightened risks for a drug or alcohol overdose
  • Incarceration
  • Emotional distress and declining mental health

A chronic relapse treatment center recognizes the severity of these kinds of consequences. It seeks to prevent them by putting a strong emphasis on helping you avoid relapsing again.

The Cycle of Addiction and Chronic Relapse Treatment Methods

Cycle of Addiction and Chronic Relapse Treatment MethodsA variety of methods can be used to break the cycle of addiction and chronic relapse. Depending on the treatment center, these methods may include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Abstinence monitoring
  • Various forms of peer support

Psychotherapy Options

The therapy options used in primary substance treatment are also frequently used in relapse prevention centers. One common choice is motivational interviewing. The goal of this therapy is to enhance your internal drive to stay sober and make lasting changes. This can involve helping you increase your own belief in your ability to change. It can also involve making a step-by-step plan on how to turn your sobriety goals into reality.

Another common option is cognitive-behavioral therapy. In the context of relapse prevention, this therapy focuses on improving your ability to:

  • Avoid places, people and situations that put you at-risk for substance use
  • Develop coping skills that help you keep your substance cravings under control
  • Use your coping skills effectively in everyday situations

You may also benefit from something called community reinforcement. This therapy has two main goals. First, it seeks to help you undo positive associations you have with drinking or taking drugs. At the same time, it seeks to highlight the advantages of sobriety.

Medication Options

Medication use in relapse prevention is not as widespread as psychotherapy. Nevertheless, it may form an important part of your prevention plan. For example, an alcohol addiction plan may include any of three anti-relapse medications. An opioid addiction plan may include either of two medications.

Abstinence Monitoring

Monitoring provides clear, objective evidence of whether or not you have used drugs or alcohol. It also helps make sure that you are not abusing any medication designed to help you avoid a relapse.

One common form of monitoring is a urine drug screen. If you are addicted to certain kinds of drugs, you may also be monitored through a saliva test. Breathalyzer testing can be used to monitor your alcohol sobriety.

Options for Peer Support


Perhaps the best-known form of peer support is a mutual self-help group. You may already belong to this kind of group. If so, your recovery plan may including refocusing your commitment to it.

You may also receive support from a recovery coach. Like self-help group sponsors, these coaches have personal experience recovering from addiction. However, they have gone through a formal training process that certifies their ability to work with others.

Additional Options

Your treatment center may also employ other methods to help you avoid future relapses. One potential option is urge surfing. This is the name for a technique that helps you take note of your substance cravings without acting on them.

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The Features of Chronic Relapse Treatment Centers

What are the typical features of chronic relapse treatment centers? In many respects, they resemble primary treatment programs. This means that you start with an assessment of your current situation and past history of relapsing. It also means that this assessment is used to create a recovery plan that suits your needs.

However, creating a chronic relapse prevention plan is a bit different that creating an initial treatment plan. Crucially, there is more information to work with in determining how to help you. This information allows your relapse prevention team to make the best possible choices for effective treatment.

Turn to Emerald Isle as a Top Option Among Chronic Relapse Treatment Centers

What is chronic relapse? This term describes the repeated occurrence of relapses in the aftermath of substance treatment. In rare cases, affected people may experience a relapse episode up to 100 times. However, most affected people experience anywhere from a few to a dozen or more episodes.

Relapses are a common aspect of addiction, which has a chronic, long-term effect on you. Still, when you relapse repeatedly, your quality of life may suffer in a variety of ways. For this reason, if you are affected, you should strongly consider enrolling in a chronic relapse prevention center. This kind of center is designed to help you break the cycle of recurring relapses. In this way, it helps you gain the many benefits that come with lasting sobriety.

At Emerald Isle Health & Recovery, we place a heavy emphasis on preventing chronic relapses. Through our onsite program, we offer extensive aftercare services for anyone who has completed primary treatment. These services allow us to provide comprehensive relapse prevention plans.

All Emerald Isle relapse plans are fully customized. Whether you need therapy, medication, abstinence monitoring or peer support, you’ll find options suited to your unique situation. In this way, we help maximize the odds that you can bring the cycle of chronic relapse to an end. To learn more about how we can help, just call us today. We are standing by to support your goal of consistently leading a sober life.