What Causes a Relapse and How to Prevent it

So, you’ve relapsed. 

Or maybe a loved one has. Or you just want to learn more about what a relapse means. We’re here to tell you what causes a relapse and how it can be avoided, with an emphasis on medically assisted treatment, or MAT, for those who need opioid addiction treatment.

The first thing to know, though: Relapse is not a failure.

It’s not a moral failure, and it doesn’t even necessarily mean that treatment failed.

Relapse is common: 70 to 90% of those with a substance abuse disorder experience a moderate slip up while in recovery. That’s because being in recovery is a constant state: There isn’t necessarily a cure for addiction, but you can learn to manage it. So, think of recovery as a continuous journey rather than a road that ends at relapse. Sometimes, a relapse can even teach you about a new trigger to avoid as you continue your recovery. That’s not to say a relapse isn’t dangerous: People with substance use disorders who are in recovery are at higher risk of a deadly overdose if they start using again. But persistence is key to living a long, healthy life in recovery.

The Reasons Behind Relapse

Relapse is often precipitated by a trigger. This trigger could be the obvious, such as proximity to or contact with drugs. It could also be less blatant, like certain people, a place, or even a mood. It can even be as minor as a split-second visual reminder. Scientists have found that being shown a trigger image for even a third of a second can change brain activity, resulting in a craving to use.

How do you manage triggers? That’s where medically assisted treatment comes in. Sometimes, those in treatment can still relapse. But there is often a reason why: The patient has stopped following their treatment plan, or their treatment is not as comprehensive as it should be. MAT, with the help of a medication like Suboxone, is the first recommended treatment for those who need heroin treatment, fentanyl treatment or treatment for other opioid addictions.

Stopping Relapse in its Tracks

Recovery is not something that happens alone: No one treatment or person can conquer opioid addiction. 

That’s why medically assisted treatment is the first line of defense recommended by experts for those struggling with opioid addiction. MAT uses both medication and behavioral therapy, or mental health help, in concert to give patients exactly what they need to fight addiction.

While avoiding triggers is also recommended for people in recovery, that’s easier said than done. Behavioral therapy gives patients the knowledge they need to handle stressful situations and those pesky triggers. Group therapy can be particularly helpful as patients can see how others use good habits to keep themselves in recovery.

Ultimately, one of the most helpful things that those with substance abuse disorders can arm themselves with is knowledge. The more you know, the more you can do to prevent relapse. Hopefully, this guide has given the know-how needed to reject relapse and to embrace recovery.