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Secrets Behind Relapse: Why Some People Struggle to Recover

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It can be incredibly difficult to take that first step towards recovery, but once you’re in it, what about relapse? A commonly feared term, relapse occurs when a person takes a few steps back towards addictive behaviors after having practiced abstinence in recovery. Misconceptions surrounding relapse indicate that a person is a “failure” or that they’re “weak” if they revert back to drinking or using substances again, but research has shown us that relapse may be quite common in recovery – especially during the first year, when a person is most vulnerable to cravings.

There are some instances, however, when a person truly doesn’t return to treatment after a relapse; and in these cases, the important question would be, “What is the marked difference between someone who relapses and returns to treatment, versus someone who doesn’t?” Various factors are what indicate the difference between these two scenarios, and knowing them could very well prevent you – or a loved one – from going down a path that doesn’t lead to healing and restoration.

Relapse: Differentiating Factors

Jason Wahler, one of Lauren Conrad’s love interests in the reality show “Laguna Beach,” told Insider just last year that he’s been 39 days sober after having previously relapsed from 3+ years of sobriety. He explained,

“…I became complacent and I was blindsided.”

Even still, with having had a brief stint in relapse, he was able to return towards his goal of sobriety – but for those who relapse and never return, it’s often because of one of the following reasons (as elabroated on by Medium):

  •    They’re not being honest with themselves about the level of severity of their addiction
  •    A person is unsure whether or not recovery is even for them
  •    An individual is unwilling to change their life altogether

The reality is that everyone is different – and while one reason may be strong enough for a person to never return to treatment, another may be just a brief stage at which the person isn’t ready to seek help quite yet. Last year, The New York Times Magazine suggested that some people in recovery have mental health concerns alongside a substance use disorder (SUD), and this makes it even more challenging for them to stay in treatment because they’re battling the symptoms of two conditions.

Altogether, recovery is a complete lifestyle change – and those in recovery must be willing to ride the ups and downs that go along with restoration of their mind, body and spirit in order to build a life of sobriety. In some instances, the change towards recovery is so drastic that a person simply can’t imagine enjoying their life without substances; of course, this perception can be changed over time, but in the “thick” of changing lifestyle habits, it can certainly be difficult. Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, told U.S. Health News,

“Humans have a host of self-destructive behaviors; we do it with food, with lack of exercise, with smoking. How many of us haven’t resumed behaviors we pledged to stop? Changing your behavior is hard.”

Hope for the Future

Research is now showing that even if a person isn’t voluntarily wanting treatment, they can still recover; motivational enhancement therapy (MET) can greatly help a person weigh out the “benefits” and “costs” of seeking help, and detoxification in and of itself can even help a person gain clarity on the scope of their addiction. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Addictions Nursing found that while there are several factors that can hold a person back in recovery, there are many more benefits that can motivate individuals to continue seeking help, even after a relapse:

  •    Having the support of family members to reinforce recovery goals
  •    Identifying positive role models to connect with and rely on in troubling times
  •    Connecting with others in their recovery program, including addiction recovery leaders and their therapist
  •    Building spirituality through 12-Step programs as well as holistic practices, such as yoga, meditation, art therapy, massage therapy, equine therapy, etc.

Networks are incredibly important, and supporting a person who has relapsed could be just enough to encourage them to get back into treatment and push harder than ever before towards their health and wellbeing.

No matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone. There are so many people in recovery who have relapsed and gotten back up again – because recovery is much like life; it’s a learning process. You’re going to go through so many different emotions as you learn how to balance everything, but you have to continue pushing forward even when you feel uncertain about where your life is heading. Don’t give up on yourself – because there are many people out there who believe you can succeed.

Burning Tree Ranch specializes in treating chronic relapse in people with chemical dependency. We provide long-term support through residential and extended care programs that help our clients break their old patterns of addiction and learn new skills to support a healthier life. Our Dallas residential treatment program is focused on providing premium substance use treatment at an affordable cost. Contact us today for more information.


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