How We Can Change the Relapse Statistics

Just like other major public health issues such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, substance addiction can take a toll not just on an individual’s health, but also on the well-being of our society as a whole. Substance use disorder is staggering when you look at the numbers: About 40 million people ages 12 and older in the United States—roughly 16 % of the population—have a problem with substance use, whether it’s alcohol or tobacco, illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or prescription medications such as opiates, according to the Center on Addiction, a national nonprofit research and advocacy organization. Even more sobering is that more than half of the people with an addiction to one substance also grapple with a disorder for another substance.

These types of addictions have a ripple effect. Someone who is addicted to alcohol may lose her job because of her drinking. Another person may start stealing to support his meth habit, while yet another may be hospitalized after an accidental overdose of painkillers. This all adds up: Substance abuse costs America more than $740 billion each year in lost wages and work productivity, health care and crime, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

As with many other health issues, there is some encouraging news: Addiction can be treated with successful management of the disease. However, it’s important to get the necessary help to learn how to manage a substance use disorder. Only 11% of the people who need help with a substance addiction actually receive treatment, according to the Center on Addiction; others initially seek out treatment but for one reason or another never go through with a program, while others don’t recognize that they even have a problem.

And like certain medical conditions, there is no cure for an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Because of that there is always the risk of relapse. In fact, anywhere between 40% to 60% of people with a substance addiction experience a relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A relapse usually signals a treatment plan isn’t working—or being used—so what are some ways to reduce the relapse statistics?

Ideas to Help Prevent Relapsing

Know your family history. The Center on Addiction estimates that 50% to 75% of all cases of addiction in America have a genetic component. Knowing if there is a history of substance abuse in your family can help you be proactive and make preventive choices. For instance, you may decide to abstain from alcohol or ask a doctor about alternative pain treatments so you don’t have to rely on heavily addictive opiates.

Lobby your representatives. There is simply not a lot of money being directed towards addiction treatment. According to the Center on Addiction, “of every state and federal tax dollar spent on substance use and addiction, less than two cents goes towards prevention and treatment.” So give your lawmakers your two cents—send an email encouraging them to create or vote for bills that designate more funding for programs that can help curb the rates of addiction relapse.

Seek out a qualified treatment center. People who end their addiction on their own without an official treatment program generally have not only lower rates of short-term sobriety but also a higher rate of relapse, compared to people who did seek out help, according to a study published in the journal Addiction. At Sheer Recovery, we offer extensive treatment options that include residential and intensive outpatient programs led by very experienced staff members who are experts in guiding clients through the recovery process. These types of programs can provide a solid foundation for a sober lifestyle.

Build coping skills. One of the other benefits of a treatment program is that it provides the tools that are crucial to help maintain sobriety. As noted in the Addiction study, people who don’t have those coping skills can run a higher risk of relapse. Because many addictions have co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression, it’s vital to seek help from a dual-diagnosis treatment program that will address the psychological underpinnings of addiction and offer tools, such as cognitive behavior therapy and mind and body relaxation exercises, which can be used even after the program ends.

Create a support network. Surround yourself with people who understand what you are going through and will support you through the ups and downs of recovery. That group can consist of family members, trusted friends, fellow support group members or sobriety coaches. It should not include the people who enabled your addiction before you pursued recovery.

Recognize that addiction management never ends. Just as you wouldn’t start smoking once you were in remission for lung cancer, you wouldn’t start drinking again once you had achieved sobriety. Addiction can be managed, but it is an everyday commitment. That means you have to keep up with your outpatient treatment plan, such as regularly attending group meetings or one-on-one therapy sessions. If for some reason you are having trouble with any part of your treatment plan, that means it’s time to check in with a health care provider, sobriety sponsor or your treatment program to fine-tune it and get you back on track. If you are struggling, never keep the problem to yourself.

Be aware of the signs of a relapse. A relapse doesn’t happen overnight but rather occurs in stages, according to a report from the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Knowing the early signs of a relapse—which can be mental, emotional and physical—can help you identify potential problems and get the help you need before you lose your sobriety. Some examples:

Emotional: Neglecting to eat or sleep, refusing to talk about your feelings, dropping out of group meetings

Mental: Lying, craving drugs or alcohol, diminishing the seriousness of your addiction

Physical: Using drugs or alcohol, whether it’s “just one drink”  that can lead to more down to road or a drug binge.

Knowing these signs—and having the coping skills, support team and knowledge gained from a treatment program—can empower you during those times when you think you may be close to relapse. Making this information available to the public at large may help us as a country make better progress on our relapse statistics.


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