Does Relapse to Drug Use Mean Treatment Has Failed?

Relapsing in recovery is incredibly common. In fact, when people are just starting their journeys, the likelihood of relapsing is so high that it’s considered an expected part of the recovery process. To mitigate this risk, rehab centers encourage all patients to have multi-pronged relapse prevention plans.

Before exiting rehab, people are also directed to various sources of post-treatment support including sober meetings, relapse prevention programs, sober living homes, local support groups, and more. Far from popular belief, relapsing doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment has failed.

Instead, it’s often a strong indication that additional treatment is required or that an additional treatment type is needed. There are many different types of addiction treatment that people with substance use disorder can pursue. Moreover, certain forms of addiction treatment work better for some people than others. If you spend time in a rehab facility that takes an all-natural, whole-health approach to recovery, you may find more success in a program that uses the 12-step method instead.

With access to a diverse range of treatment modalities, it’s important to look for needs-specific options that fit with your own belief system and work well for you. It’s also important to remember that recovery looks different for everyone. Some people have multiple “false starts” before they’re ready to fully commit to getting well. Relapse has many possible causes, and insufficient or ineffective treatment isn’t always one of them.

Why People Relapse

Among the biggest causes of both substance use disorder and relapse are untreated co-occurring disorders. These are mental health disorders that occur simultaneously with drug addiction. They include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • General anxiety disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

People often turn to substances as a means for muting the mental and emotional discomfort that these conditions cause. In rehab, having access to dual diagnosis treatment or treatment for co-occurring disorders greatly reduces the risk of relapse by giving people access to safe, sustainable strategies for maintaining mood balance. Post-treatment, relapse caused by unmanaged co-occurring disorders may be the result of insufficient or improper dual diagnosis treatment.

However, there are also patients who gradually move away from managing their illnesses. For instance, when medications for co-occurring disorders are prescribed, discontinuing the use of these medications against the recommendations of the prescribing doctor is instantly problematic.

Failure to continue receiving counseling or other recommended support services can increase the risk of relapsing as well. Sometimes, relapse is the result of an immediate return to a former living environment. People who leave inpatient treatment and return to homes where active drug use is present have a very high likelihood of relapsing.

In some instances, it may never be safe for a person in recovery to return to a former living environment. Whether facing toxic relationships or other in-house triggers, stressors, or challenges, many patients are advised to spend time in sober living houses, halfway houses, or other alternative living environments until they’re able to achieve self-sufficiency. Insufficient treatment lengths are also a common cause of relapse. Spending just 30 days in addiction treatment may not be enough for building a solid foundation for recovery.

Although 30-day rehab programs are certainly a good start, many people spend much of this time actively detoxing from their substances of choice. Currently, 90-day inpatient programs are considered the gold standard in addiction recovery. Not only do longer treatment times give patients ample opportunity to learn and practice new coping skills, but they also provide more time for the brain to heal from the ravages of addiction, and more time for the brain’s chemistry to normalize.

Ultimately, relapse is a common concern among recovering addicts and an equally common occurrence. The best ways to mitigate the risks of relapse are by:

  • Choosing the most needs-specific treatment types
  • Enrolling in rehab programs that are sufficient in length
  • Establishing an individualized relapse-prevention plan
  • Having adequate post-treatment support

Although relapsing isn’t a definite sign that treatment has failed, it may be an indication that more treatment is needed or additional treatment types are required. If you or someone you care about has recently relapsed, we can help. Give us a call today at 833-820-2922.