Researchers and professionals have taken some time to declare drug addiction and alcoholism are diseases and like other diseases, are chronic and those afflicted are subject to relapse. From a medical perspective, addiction can be compared to diabetes in that it will require long term treatment, lifestyle changes, medication at times and if not monitored, relapse will occur.
Experts with The National Institute of Drug Abuse feel it is not reasonable to expect a recovering addict or alcoholic to maintain lifelong abstinence with just one treatment or rehab experience. Furthermore, Dr. George Koob, a professor with the Scripps Research Institute agrees. His research has shown that approximately 80 percent of the addicts and alcoholics who experience detox return to drug or alcohol use within a year.
Discovering why addicts and alcoholics are so prone to relapse is an area of great concern to all of us. One aspect we identified is that of craving. Craving is the incredible desire an addict or alcoholic still feels for the substance days, months or even years into recovery. Research has shown us that the cravings that the addict or alcoholic experience could be directly related to the long term changes in brain function, due to the drug and alcohol abuse. In essence, the brain has become conditioned to function under the influence of drugs or alcohol and does not function efficiently without it.
Secondly, it has been established that cravings can be a conditioned response to triggers that the recovering addict or alcoholic may encounter, for example old people, places or things associated with the person's prior drug or alcohol use. Relapse triggers, as they are termed, can create powerful emotional and sometimes physical responses that can lead up to incredible urges to use drugs and alcohol again. It is for this reason individuals early in sobriety are urged to change so many aspects of their life. With all of this said, it is clear that a person's relapse is usually preceded by other difficulties which result in the addict or alcoholic feeling angry, lonely, depressed or in self pity.
The issue with relapse that is infinitely grave is not necessarily the fact that the addict or alcoholic has used or drank again, but the quantity and frequency with which they use is almost identical to right before they began their recovery. Very few, ease their way back into their drug or alcohol use. They begin as if they never stopped.
An experiment performed by Dr. Koob demonstrated that when alcohol was removed from alcoholic or addicted rats for three or four days and then returned, the rats consumed 50 percent more drugs or alcohol as they consumed before. As common as this behavior is among the people that relapse, it is one of the most misunderstood.
There is good news and that is if a relapse is caught early, it can prove to be a very valuable educational tool. The recovering addict or alcoholic might then practice the principles taught to them in their alcohol and drug rehab program with more willingness and motivation than ever before.
It appears that for those people that are able to maintain long term recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism the solution is much greater than just abstaining from drugs and alcohol. The other part of the equation lies in being able to identify cravings, wait out the feelings and become aware of what actually triggered them. Through becoming aware of what triggers the craving, the recovering person can make effective changes in their "life style" which can result in fewer urges to drink or drug. Finally, there are number of popular alcohol and drug rehab support groups which provide needed encouragement to help addicts to recover from.