Can Recovered Addicts Ever Go Back to Casual Use?

One of the most important parts of addiction treatment is learning about the nature of addiction itself. Many addicts and their family members assume that addiction is largely about self-control. People think that they lack the willpower or the drive to limit their use of substances, and they blame themselves for reaching physical dependence. In reality, however, addiction is recognized as a complex mental health issue.

Also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD), addiction affects the chemistry and functioning of the brain in significant and often long-lasting ways. As such, addiction is considered a chronic, lifelong issue that most be managed on an ongoing basis. Going to rehab doesn’t cure addiction, it simply gives people the tools for maintaining their sobriety over the long-term. There is no safe way to return to substance use after treatment. Even short-term, moderate use of drugs or alcohol can cause a recovering addict to quickly spiral out of control.

The Danger of Over-Confidence After Treatment

It’s not uncommon for people to feel incredibly confident after completing rehab. Despite constant arguments from rehab professionals to the contrary, many people exit these programs feeling as though they’re cured. Although feeling good about yourself can be beneficial, too much confidence can lead to you taking unnecessary risks. Life after rehab is necessarily different. You have to spend your time among friends and family members who support your recovery. It’s also important to avoid environments where people are actively drinking or actively using your substance of choice. Although life without certain forms of social interaction might initially seem boring, the sacrifice is more than worthwhile. More importantly, as you open yourself up to new interests and make new social connections, you’ll invariably find new ways of spending your time that are far more enjoyable. Using drugs or alcohol in a casual, recreational way is never possible for a recovering addict.

Understanding the Stages of Relapse

Relapse isn’t just a physical use event. You don’t have to have a drink or ingest any other substance to be considered as being in relapse. Relapse occurs in three distinct stages:

  • Emotional relapse
  • Mental relapse
  • Physical relapse

Emotional relapse occurs when people become bored or dissatisfied with their new sober lives. They may deal with depression, and they may begin spending time in isolation. During this first stage of relapse, it’s also common for people to stop attending sober meetings or taking advantage of other forms of post-treatment support. In mental relapse, recovering addicts begin bargaining with themselves.

They may think that they can limit their drug or alcohol use, offset use with other healthy activities, or use just one time to remember why they stopped. People often begin fantasizing about purchasing substances and using them. They may even begin making plans to do so. When recovering addicts in this second stage of relapse don’t reach out for help, they have a very high likelihood of returning to physical use and ultimately, physical addiction.

What to Do When You Start Negotiating With Yourself

Negotiating with yourself about drug or alcohol use isn’t just a sure sign of relapse, it’s actually recognized as relapse itself. People who begin bargaining with themselves are just a short distance away from planning how they’ll obtain substances and actually use them. For someone living with SUD or AUD, this stage of bargaining often means:

  • Additional treatment is needed
  • A better relapse prevention plan must be put in place
  • Essential treatment types have yet to be received

If you’ve been battling anxiety or depression and are wondering if using drugs or alcohol will make you feel better, you may need the benefit of dual diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment aims to identify and address underlying mental health disorders like major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, general anxiety disorder, and many others. When these conditions are known and properly managed, the urge to use as a means for self-medicating will abate on its own.

Many people spend just one month in formal addiction treatment and immediately return to their old lives. If you have the same friends that you had before entering recovery or if you’re still spending time in the same high-risk social environments, you may be testing your recovery in unnecessary ways. Opting to extend your treatment, enroll in a relapse prevention program, or attend more support meetings can help you get through this challenging time without using. Having a solid relapse prevention plan is critical for success.

This is a plan that you may have developed in rehab. If you did not, enrolling in a relapse prevention program will allow you to get a customized a plan for avoiding the return to your old, self-harming behaviors. The more treatment and support that you get after rehab, the easier it will be to stay sober. For an addict, there is never a safe way to return to substance use. If you’re struggling with temptation or other challenges that are pushing you towards relapse, we can help. Call us now at 833-497-3808.