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Controlling Relapse in Drug and Alcohol Addicts

Relapse is an unfortunate possibility when someone is working to overcome an addiction. For opiate addicts the rate of relapse within a year of recovery is 85 percent, and for alcoholics it’s 30 to 70 percent. The biggest predictor of whether an alcoholic will fall into a pattern of drinking again is if they have sought treatment.

Controlling Relapse in Drug and Alcohol AddictsAddiction experts have different definitions for relapse. Dr. James Garbutt, a psychiatry professor at the University of North Carolina, said some describe relapse as a return to the drug of choice in any amount. Others only describe relapse as a return to heavy substance use that results in negatively impacting the user. Regardless of what constitutes an official relapse, addiction experts agree that the condition must be treated over time to prevent relapse from occurring.

Addicts that abuse their drug of choice are accustomed to getting what they want. The reward centers in their brains shoot off the naturally occurring feel-good chemical dopamine whenever they use. Relapse is often triggered by an intense need for these elated feelings.

Alcoholics might drink to relieve anxiety or to simply feel pleasure. All recreational drugs or prescription drugs used for recreational purposes elevate dopamine levels in various brain regions.

When addicts chronically abuse drugs the body creates more dopamine transporters to carry the excess dopamine to the receptors, which produce euphoric feelings. When addicts stop abusing the extra transporters remain, but the extra dopamine does not. This causes a dysphoric state, leading to relapse.

Some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction. Others are pushed into relapse by depression or a nagging negative mood that won’t go away. Psychiatric problems can also influence a person’s inability to abstain from destructive habits. In fact, mental illness has been a persistent contributor to relapse when left untreated. Schizophrenics and bipolar addicts are at a very high risk for relapse, especially with alcohol.

Addicts experiencing the need to use drugs or to drink again should get help before they slip deeper into a mindset that it’s okay to dabble. Seeking professional treatment before relapse occurs is the best way to learn how to cope with the emotions that lead one into relapse.

Controlling relapse has a lot to do with learning how to change the addictive mindset. Talking to someone about what you’re feeling is helpful, as is exercise – even taking a walk can be the difference between using and refusing.