Why Recovery Isn’t Linear

“There is no shame in beginning again, for you get a chance to build bigger and better than before.”

Leon Brown

Getting clean is an important step forward

Quitting drugs and alcohol can be very tough. An individual may recognise (sometimes years before seeking treatment) that they’re addicted to drugs and alcohol. An emotional threshold will likely have been reached before an individual checks into a treatment clinic. Finally, being able to stop drinking and using and discovering a new internal freedom in treatment can offer the individual an extraordinary new lease of life.

Getting clean is an important step forward. A detox allows the human brain to rewire itself, forming new connections and pathways. The body will clear itself of harmful substances and chemicals and repair itself. Abstinence from a strong mood-altering substance is only the start of building a foundation for long-term recovery.

It can take some time for mental and emotional wellness to manifest. It’ll likely take some practice to engage with people without alcohol and drugs, especially at social events and business-related engagements. Learning to sit with a painful emotion triggered by a highly charged dispute or a challenging situation that’ll be learned over time. Overwhelming/unmanageable feelings and emotions tend to be the most challenging aspect of early recovery. Learning to live with stress and anxiety (or even boredom) healthily is a steep learning curve which requires patience and tenacity. Recovery isn’t linear. It’ll manifest differently depending on the individual’s needs and circumstances.

Some individuals feel that abstinence is the sole goal without applying themselves to a long-term recovery programme, aftercare, or establishing a strong support system. Experience shows that most individuals, no matter how capable and successful, will relapse if support structures aren’t in place after a detox. The danger lies in complacency.

Drug addiction and alcoholism are chronic addictive brain disorders which can be arrested with the right care, support and commitment from the patient and their support team. Many “old-timers” and long-term sober individuals often say that recovery is a twenty-four-hour process—one day at a time—focusing on what can be done during that window to ensure recovery is maintained. The days become weeks, and weeks become months, and so on. There’s no cure for addiction. It needs to be approached similarly to an individual living successfully with diabetes; specific actions need to be taken daily to manage the chronic disease and keep relapse at bay. Alcoholism or drug addiction need to be addressed daily, or the chances of relapse will increase. 

An alcoholic will not be able to consume alcohol safely purely because they’ve remained abstinent for a few months. It can be tempting to fall prey to the idea, “I’ve got a handle on this now”. The same can be said for a drug addict. Many addicts relapse after sometimes lengthy periods of abstinence from their drug of choice, if complacency sets in. Furthermore, there is a high risk of overdose if an individual assumes they can resume their drug use in the same way as before the period of abstinence (when their tolerance to a drug was much higher).  Sadly, such dangerous behaviour often leads to accidental overdose and death.

Addcounsel recognises how challenging it is to get clean, navigate through intense cravings during a withdrawal period, and take on new recovery commitments and habits that may seem unappealing at this stage. We understand that committing to long-term recovery can be a daunting prospect, particularly when the stresses and challenges of everyday life and work feel insurmountable.

Relapse in early recovery

Many alcoholics and drug addicts will relapse within the first year of attempted abstinence. The chances of a relapse are considerably lower after the first year and even less likely after five years of continuous abstinence. Rates vary, but the consensus among health professionals worldwide is that 40% to 60% of individuals first attempting to recover from alcoholism and drug addiction will relapse.

WebMD states: “Addiction is a long-term condition, like asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Of course, the goal is to stop using drugs or alcohol completely and not relapse. But when you see your addiction as a chronic disease, you can also look at relapse from that perspective.”

The author continues: “About 40% to 60% of people who get treatment for substance use disorder have a relapse. That’s about the same as relapse rates among people with asthma or high blood pressure if they stop taking their medicine. What’s key is to recognise the early signs of relapse, so you can stop a backslide before it starts.”

A relapse is seeded in the individual’s thinking patterns, sometimes days and weeks before actually ingesting alcohol and/or powerful mood-altering drugs. There’s usually an element of denial around the consequences of a relapse—minimising and reminiscing over old times spent drinking and using, often associated with happier times. Keeping such dangerous thoughts to oneself (isolation) is unwise. The secrecy and feelings of anticipation can in themselves produce a strong dopamine release. The harsh truth is, when an individual succumbs to an alcohol or drug spree, and consequently has a full-blown relapse, the reality rarely matches up to the fantasy.

The reason an individual will likely seek treatment for drugs or alcohol use disorder is that they’ve endured many failed attempts to manage their illness themselves, with ever worsening consequences. They’re effectively seeking a relapse prevention programme while in treatment.  Needless to say, the motivation for some to go into treatment will be purely to placate a spouse/family member, a judge, or their shareholders. This rarely leads to a successful outcome.

Addcounsel has identified some of the reasons why people relapse post-treatment:

  • Failure to follow through on a recovery programme after checking out of treatment
  • Neglecting to implement an aftercare package or not having one in place post-treatment
  • Socialising with individuals who regularly use illegal mood-altering recreationally
  • Staying in contact with a drug dealer (allowing access by keeping their numbers)
  • Not engaging in recovery support structures such as a weekly support group
  • Not making the necessary adjustments to allow recovery to progress post-treatment
  • Checking out of a treatment clinic prematurely
  • Isolating oneself from a recovery support system
  • Living with an undiagnosed mental illness or disease which can complicate health and inflict excessive stress on the individual in early recovery. This is why it’s so important to work with a world-class team of health professionals who will detect underlying mental health issues whilst in treatment
  • Believing that a few weeks or months of abstinence means that drug addiction/alcoholism is cured, resulting in complacency
  • Returning to a dysfunctional environment: family, business, or otherwise. While this can be managed, it may be too overwhelming in early recovery. This is why an appropriate support structure is essential post-treatment
  • Not asking for help. Feeling of shame or embarrassment around personal issues /difficulties

Lessons to learn from a relapse

Hope can be drawn from a relapse. An unpleasant relapse can help an individual to recognise and come to terms with the reality that major adjustments need to be made to ensure a long-lasting recovery. At Addcounsel, we believe that any progress which has been made prior to a relapse can be built upon. If a relapse occurs, and an individual is willing to concede defeat and adapt accordingly, significant progress can be made.  Often the memory of a nasty relapse can spur an individual on to ultimate success.

We don’t believe in shaming an individual because they’ve relapsed on drugs or alcohol, in the same way it would be inconceivable to blame a diabetes sufferer for forgetting or missing an insulin injection. With a brain disorder/illness as powerful as addiction, there are bound to be setbacks.

Steven M. Melemis MD, PhD, University of Toronto, writes on a relapse: “Individuals do not achieve recovery by just not using. Recovery involves creating a new life in which it is easier to not use. If individuals do not change their lives, then all the factors that contributed to their addiction will still be there. But most individuals begin recovery by hoping to get back their old life without the using. Relapse is a gradual process that begins weeks and sometimes months before an individual picks up a drink or drug.”

He continues: “There are three stages to relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. The common denominator of emotional relapse is poor self-care. If individuals do not practice sufficient self-care, eventually they will start to feel uncomfortable in their own skin and look for ways to escape, relax, or reward themselves.” 

Contact us today

At Addcounsel, we understand the impact of relapse, and how it impacts everyday life. Without the appropriate treatment, a relapse will compromise interpersonal relations and will eventually have a severe impact on physical and mental health. You don’t have to go through this alone. Our specialists have developed a “whole person” approach to treat alcoholism and drug addiction, addressing the symptoms, triggers, and causes of your condition. We’ll help you develop effective, lifelong strategies to manage alcoholism and drug addiction, ensuring a sustained and long-term recovery.

We offer treatment for addiction at one of our private, luxury rehab facilities in Knightsbridge, Chelsea, and Mayfair, London, which take place in an intimate, one-to-one setting – no groups, no other patients. Your comfort, safety and privacy are our priority. Contact us today to start your recovery.



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