Chronic relapse—more accurately, chronic relapser—describes an individual who puts together lengths of sobriety only to go out and use again. Conventional wisdom maintains the relapse occurs long before the individual uses. Relapse begins with the thought—even a fleeting, half-baked wisp of a notion—it—the use—will be different this time. The thought gathers strength like snowball. It continues its relentless march even if the addict is unaware of its approach. When it is ready to be born, the physical act of relapse is really just an afterthought.
For some addicts and alcoholics, they are up against a formidable foe—their brains. Research shows neurological functions require significant time to return to normal—much longer than the typical length of a rehab stint. A recovering addict may be working a strong program but his brain still craves the drug. This does not mean his situation is hopeless; it just requires heightened vigilance. For this reason alone, recovering addicts and alcoholics must stay connected to their sober community. They must stay in contact with their sponsor and go to meetings. Addiction is ravenous and insatiable.
Emotions are the main triggers for recovering addicts and alcoholics—particularly for young people. The usual suspects—anger, fear, frustration, depression—can work on the brain. Alcoholics Anonymous maintains the recovering alcoholic has no power over people, places or things. What the alcoholic has are emotional connections to these things.
Individuals in recovery are advised to stay away from the people and the places they associate with using. A familiar A.A. saying is if a person hangs out in a barbershop, he’ll eventually get a haircut. Comporting with individuals who use or drink or frequenting places where the addict/alcoholic imbibed or ingested brings up memories of using days past. But the brain, in order to receive the pleasure and release of chemicals, filters out the bad times and repeats, like a twisted mantra, “It’s okay. This time will be different.”
Life after relapse
Relapse does not have to be part of recovery; nor does it signify failure. Addicts and alcoholics are notorious for self-criticism. A relapse is the penultimate teaching moment. The individual must ask, “Why did it happen? What was I feeling in the days or weeks leading up to it? Was I totally honest with myself, with my sponsor?” These questions must be examined from a nonjudgmental point of view. For a young person, relapse can be an emotional maelstrom. Parents must be supportive, not condemnatory. Addiction and alcoholism are powerful, insidious diseases. Any youth who decides he no longer wants to be a slave to a substance must be commended. A relapse is not permanent.
An individual who chronically relapses typically follows one of two schools of thought. The first is he is not done using. Simple as this sounds, sometimes the simplest explanation is the truest. The second school of thought is he has unresolved issues in his life. The demons which spurred him to use are still there. In this case, it is of upmost importance the young man work with a sponsor, attend 12-step meetings, participate in aftercare, if available, and seek counseling. As long as he under siege from these forces, he will never maintain long-term sobriety.
Teens are moody and irritable—at times. A teen who is constantly irritated or angry, even violent, can indicate a more serious issue than moodiness. Depression often manifests as anger, as does substance abuse. A teen who is habitually confrontational toward people in authority may have oppositional defiant disorder—ODD. The teen derives a sense of identity from his behavior. Challenging authority is his way of asserting his independence.
White River Academy provides students a well-rounded academic education. Our residential treatment center is certified by the Utah State Office of Education. In addition to academics, WRA educates young men on how to live without ever having to take a drink or a drug again. We treat the underlying causes fueling addiction and alcoholism. We provide individual and group counseling; we provide outdoor excursions; we teach selflessness through service. For more information on how we mold boys into responsible young men, call 866-520-0905.