Three Crucial Steps to Prevent Relapse into Addiction

When I began working in the field of chemical dependency thirty years ago, there were some common beliefs of treatment professionals with which I strongly disagreed.  One of those beliefs was that if an individual underwent treatment for addiction and then drank or used illicit drugs again , he’d never really wanted to be sober at all.  (In my opinion, it was the old proverbial “throw the baby out with  the bathwater” philosophy.) 

I took issue with this belief because I happen to know both from professional and personal experience that it takes a good deal of determination and hard work to maintain early sobriety.  (Whether the individual maintains sobriety for a long or for a short period of time is not the point.)  I believed that for as long as professionals continued to focus on that which was beside the point, no progress could be made in solving the problem at hand.  (In it’s infancy, the chemical dependency treatment world was a punitive one.  The problem with that was that someone who is already beating himself up, certainly doesn’t need others to add to his already deep, emotional sense of shame.)

 I firmly believed that when an individual went to all of the work it takes to develop new sobriety and then ended up using, there had to be other issues involved that were interfering with his goal of continuous sobriety.

I began to ask some very probing questions of these clients.  Questions about how they’d been feeling emotionally, how they’d been sleeping, eating, etc.  What I learned was that people who relapsed after working hard to get sober, were definitely struggling with other issues besides their addiction.  I began referring clients who were having problems with cravings and with relapse for a thorough psychological assessment.  Making sure that they were referred to an office that housed both a psychologist and psychiatrist was critical.  It was critical because if the psychological testing revealed the need for a mood-stabilizing medication, the psychologist who customarily performs testing, can consult without delay with the psychiatrist in the office for appropriate prescription medication.

In countless numbers of cases, what was discovered through psychological testing was that the individual was suffering from depression and/or anxiety issues.  But there were other problems that I encountered.  The addiction community at that time frowned upon the use of medication for mood changing purposes.  My relief was monumental when the term mood-stabilizing became better known among professionals in the field.  That was because there is a tremendous amount of difference between mood-altering and mood-stabilizing medication.

 ood-altering medication either raises or lowers the mood away from that which is considered a general sense of well-being (either high or low.)  Mood-stabilizing medication on the other hand, moves the individual’s mood back into the general vicinity of a general sense of well being (i.e. a stable mood.)

To help understand the differences in psychotropic medications is crucial.  Unless one possesses this knowledge, it is impossible to know which medications are hazardous to chemically dependent clients and which ones are safe.  For example, if a medication contains a minor tranquilizer, it is a highly addictive medication.  That makes it off-limits to anyone who is chemically dependent person who does not want to place his sobriety in jeopardy.  Narcotics, opiates, sedatives and many others are also highly addictive.  Consequently it is imperative when choosing a psychologist/psychiatrist office, that one finds out whether or not these professionals are well-trained in chemical dependency.  One issue with which I’ve watched numerous chemically dependent individuals struggle, is failing to be their own advocate when it comes to their medical and/or psychological health.  Many relapses occur because a client failed to inform their doctor or psychiatrist of their addictive personality.  The tendency seems to be to then blame the professional for prescribing a drug to which they became addicted.  The burden of responsibility here clearly does not fall on the shoulders of the professional involved.

 Part of addictive behavior is the habit of ingesting whatever drug/alcohol and then letting life happen without being a responsible participant.  Learning to take full responsibility for themselves, for their lives, for their debts and for their health can be extremely challenging to most.  It is simply behavior with which they are basically unfamiliar.

 When clients are new to recovery in treatment, I repeatedly remind them that changing our thinking is crucial to recovery!  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!  Neither is stable, positive, healthy recovery!

So, you see, while it is absolutely true that the most important things to do repeatedly in early sobriety is:

1)     Don’t use,

2)     Go to meetings,

3)     Stay away from using places and using acquaintances!  (I tend not to refer to using buddies as “friends” because  although it is always shocking to the         newly recovering individual just how quickly these people vanish from their social calendars once they realize that the individual is serious about  no longer choosing to use alcohol or other  drugs, it is true, nonetheless.)     

Never underestimate the negative power of exposing oneself to using people and situations!  Countless recovering individuals manage to expose themselves to these dangers for quite some time before they unwittingly begin to slowly, but surely, wear down.  Addiction is all powerful and extremely insidious.  Make no mistake about it.  Unless you are vigilant and willing to do anything you have to do to maintain recovery, it can and will sneak-up on you like the thief in the night that it IS! 

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(Copyright 2014 by JC Fredlund) Copyright 2009 – 2014 by JC Fredlund (JC Eberhart, Past Pen Name): ©JC Fredlund and JC Fredlund’s Artistry Blog, 1974 – 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to JC Fredlund and the link to blog is included with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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