Insight for the Journey: Understanding Relapse Complexities Part 1
Complex wooden maze

Insight for the Journey: Understanding Relapse Complexities Part 1

There are internal and external variables that make seeking treatment for substance use disorders difficult. Some internal or personal factors might include lifestyle choices, will power, motivation levels, and personality factors. In addition to the internal issues, there are a host of external factors that block, limit, or make seeking treatment harder. It’s helpful to understand the various challenges people face when combating a substance use disorder. I’ll discuss five issues today that often lead to relapse and review five more tomorrow. 

1. Mental Health Problems- Anxiety, depression, bipolar illness, psychosis, ADHD, and personality disorders complicate treatment and limit treatment options. Unmanaged mental health symptoms reduce treatment completion rates and increase the probability of relapse. 

2. Past Trauma- Similar to the mental health issues mentioned above, traumatic experiences and the often-resulting Post-traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms can complicate recovery. As nightmares, flashbacks, increased startle response, and sensitivities increase, there may be an increase desire to escape the emotional pain through drug and alcohol use. And as drug and alcohol use is decreased, PTSD symptoms may gain strength, making careful treatment of both disorders necessary. 

3. Limited Access to Treatment- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimated that only 10-15% of people needing drug and alcohol treatment, receive services. Rural communities and some urban areas may be underserved. Current efforts to increase access to care include early identification of substance use disorders, increasing the number of quality co-occurring disorder treatment services, and reducing the stigma of addiction treatment. 

4. Finding Available Treatment- Navigating the treatment system maze can be frustrating especially when you are suffering with addiction and mental health symptoms. While motivation levels are high, a client must find the right level of care, is open during the right hours, that takes their insurance, is affordable after deductibles and co-pays are met, is conveniently located, quickly and confidentially answers questions, meets all legal requirements, supplies high quality services and has beds or openings available. 

5. Lack of Aftercare Programming- Relapse rates are high if aftercare services are limited or unavailable. Research continues to reveal that longer and more intense treatments lead to a higher probability of a stronger, long-term recovery. An effective continuum of care model has various levels including residential treatment, intensive outpatient programs, sober living, group support, involved family care, and mental health psychiatric and counseling services. 

Running a successful recovery program requires hard work. Be willing to identify the challenges as they arise. Acknowledging the potential relapse pitfalls is a powerful first step in avoiding them. 

Recovery is a Journey. Enjoy the Ride!

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