The Cycle of Chronic Relapse: How to Break It

Ask anyone in recovery and they will likely tell you that getting clean and sober was the hardest, yet best thing they have ever done. Very few people with an addiction to drugs or alcohol actually stay sober after their first attempt at recovery. It sometimes takes repeated efforts to achieve long-lasting sobriety – that is more the rule than the exception. For some people, it’s even harder than that though. They are chronic relapsers and while they may be able to collect longer periods of sobriety, they continually end up drinking or using again.

What is Chronic Relapsing?

Chronic relapse is a repeating cycle in which a person wants to become sober, does in fact stop using or drinking, but then once again picks up and restarts active addiction. Chronic relapsers typically have completed addiction treatment multiple times, have had some long periods of recovery, have been educated about the disease, are well-versed in addiction lingo and are especially familiar with recovery tools, yet they still cannot remain clean and sober.

Why Do People Relapse?

Chronic relapse refers to old behaviors that have come back, including drinking or using, that cause the user to once again need treatment. The rate of relapse of addiction is very high, and addiction experts are finding that there are many reasons for it. Among them are the following:

  • Not changing one’s social environment after treatment
  • Underlying psychological or psychiatric issues that were not discovered or resolved while in treatment
  • Insufficient length of time spent in treatment
  • Varying degrees of stress, depending on the individual
  • Major life changes like marriage, divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, etc.

The biggest contributor to chronic relapse, though, is thought to be the belief that upon completion of treatment that one is cured, no longer needing to be concerned about a return to addiction. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Addiction recovery and relapse prevention requires using every recovery resource that an addict has, that cannot be maintained on one’s own. Depending on the person, that may mean continued individual or group therapy, consistent attendance at 12-step meetings, regular contact with a sponsor, psychiatric care, family support, or any combination of these and other tools.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Relapse

The following are a few of the most common signs and symptoms related to chronic relapse:

Multiple unsuccessful attempts at remaining sober  Many substance abusers have lived a life of drug and alcohol abuse without ever attempting to get sober. Chronic relapsers are different, in that they have tried over and over to stop using.

Unable to remain clean despite having all of the knowledge and being familiar with the tools of addiction and recovery  Most people who fall victim are familiar with the ins and outs of recovery, but continue to relapse despite that.

Feeling hopeless  Chronic relapsers often feel hopeless about finding long-lasting sobriety.

Many treatment options tried  People who chronically relapse are likely to have tried several recovery options including detox, residential treatment, outpatient treatment, psychiatric care, sober living housing, support groups, and 12-step programs.

Exaggerated personality traits  It’s often found that chronic relapsers have varied, but exaggerated, personality traits like charm, manipulation, deceit, intelligence, or passion. Some suffer from borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Chronic Relapsing

Addiction therapists can help with treatment plans that are unique to their triggers and lives, that are designed for people prone to relapse. Some other helpful methods for treating chronic relapse include:

Medical management  An addicted person’s chances of achieving long-term sobriety are improved when his or her mental and physical health are monitored by a medical professional.

Remove distractions  It’s crucial that chronic relapsers remove anything that distracts them from seeing the truth about themselves, that they are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Emphasize mental and spiritual nature of addiction  It’s essential that chronic relapsers understand that they have a disease that affects their mind, body, and spirit.

Help for the family  Often times, the families of the victims are dysfunctional and help and support are needed for family members as well as the addicted person.

Use leverage  Chronic relapsers need to understand that they will not receive help, financial or otherwise, from loved ones if they relapse. This is not bribing someone to stay sober, it is simply not enabling an addict’s addiction.

Group therapy or 12-step program  It’s important to have the support of others in the recovery community. Bonds are formed quickly, and other people in recovery are most likely to notice relapsing behavior.

Accountability  Treatment for chronic relapsers must include relentless accountability, responsibility, and consistency.

Hope for the Chronic Relapser

While the statistics for chronic relapsers is not favorable, there is hope for sustained recovery. It has to be recognized that the person is resistant to treatment and options that challenge that resistance must be employed. Often, a long-term residential treatment program that is specifically designed for the treatment resistant addict is critical to breaking the cycle of chronic relapse.

If you or your loved one is a chronic relapser, seek help sooner rather than later. At Serenity at Summit, we have experience in dealing with individuals who have been unsuccessful at remaining sober in the past. Contact us for help and guidance in your recovery.

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