Recovering from addiction is one of the most important and constructive things a person can do with their lives. We’re proud to be a part of our clients’ recoveries and love seeing them succeed. However, our hearts break when relapse strikes and a person must rebuild their lives all over again. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when this happens, but it is important to prevent it whenever possible.
In our experience, we’ve found that relapse risk is highly increased in people who suffer from co-occurring disorders. Sadly, this condition is often poorly understood by the people who suffer from it, which leads to poor treatment and a cycle of recovery and relapse. However, you can nip that problem in the bud by understanding your co-occurring disorders and how you can beat them in order to prevent relapse.
Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders
Co-occurring disorders are a problem that plagues many people who struggle with addictions. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration estimates that 34 percent of all people with addictions in America suffer from a co-occurring disorder. What is this problem and why is it so prevalent? To understand co-occurring disorders, let’s take a look at how they develop.
Simply put, a co-occurring disorder is a situation in which an addiction exists alongside one or more mental health problems, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Simply having both problems doesn’t necessarily mean you have a co-occurring disorder. The two problems have to influence and exacerbate each other before you are suffering from dual diagnosis.
Let’s say that you develop the bipolar disorder when you are about 16 or 17. As your symptoms increase in severity, you find it increasingly difficult to live your life. If any of you are bipolar, you know how its constant ups and downs can make life a roller coaster that feels impossible to safely ride.
Since you’re an older teenager, you’ve been experimenting with alcohol and marijuana, even before developing bipolar disorder. However, once your symptoms increase, you find yourself increasingly drawn to drinking, as it seems to calm your manic episodes and distract you from depression. Unfortunately, you develop a pattern of abuse that quickly spirals into addiction.
At this point, you have developed a mental addiction (as you feel like alcohol helps alleviate bipolar disorder symptoms) and a physical one. Sadly, alcohol is one of the worst things a person with bipolar disorder can use. It causes a series of mental imbalances in your brain chemistry that makes your symptoms worse. As a result, you drink even more.
The Causes Of Relapse And Prevention Methods
The problem lies in the way your disorders interact with each other. Let’s stick with the bipolar disorder example and expand upon it. After suffering a series of personal problems related to your co-occurring disorders, you decide to finally quit drinking and get the medical treatment you need to be happy and healthy.
With a lot of hard work, you finally regain sobriety. You feel free from your addiction and you’re ready to get back on track. However, your bipolar disorder symptoms come back without warning and you suddenly find it hard to cope with life. You might not have medications for it yet or they simply aren’t working. With nowhere else to turn, you pick up the bottle to ease your mental anguish.
If you’ve experienced this situation in your recovery, you know how frustrating it can be, but there is hope. Addiction experts and medical specialists are working hard to help find ways to minimize your relapse risk and treat your co-occurring disorders. For example, doctors Mark McGovern, Bonnie Wrisley, and Robert Drake wrote an article called Special Section on Relapse Prevention: Relapse of Substance Use Disorder and Its Prevention Among Persons With Co-occurring Disorders. It outlined various ways that relapse could be prevented in those with co-occurring disorders.
In their article, they studied various pieces of scientific literature to help find empirical treatment methods that could help alleviate addiction and its impact on people’s lives. They identified the key ingredients for successful relapse prevention, which we’re excited to share with you. In our experience, we’ve found that following these steps will help create a more successful recovery:
- Decrease exposure to substances – Stop going places where you used to use or interacting with people whom you used within the past.
- Increase your motivation for abstinence – Why are you trying to quit using? Is it because of exterior pressure or because you sincerely want to quit? Find your motivation and maximize it to increase recovery effectiveness.
- Monitor your feelings regularly – Keep a journal of how you feel during the day to track low points and relapse cravings. This can help you identify behaviors and situations that trigger the need to use.
- Learning coping methods for cravings – You’ll probably have cravings for the rest of your life, but you can learn healthy and effective strategies for handling them when they do occur.
- Continual treatment for your mental health concern – Recovery doesn’t stop the moment you exit rehab. Some mental health concerns will last a lifetime, and proper medication and counseling will help you better understand your problems in order to handle them in a more constructive manner.
- Creating an integrated relapse plan – Creating and implementing a relapse plan will help you prevent relapse triggers, utilize coping strategies, and recover from a relapse, should one occur.
The latter point is one that we feel is often ignored by many people during recovery, and we think that is a major mistake. To help you prevent relapse, we are going to go over how you can create an integrated relapse plan, ways that you can execute it, and how it will help you deal with your co-occurring disorders and decrease your relapse risk.
Creating An Integrated Relapse Plan
Writing an integrated relapse plan is designed to give you a guide that prevents you from falling victim to your co-occurring disorders. It is a simple, but a detailed document that should fit on one or two sheets of paper. The format doesn’t matter, as long as you include the relevant sections discussed below.
An integrated relapse plan should include: a section on preventing triggers (including a list of the triggers and ways that you can avoid them; ways to monitor early warning signs of your mental health problems, including people and actions that triggered them; and a plan for responding to those early warning signs, including contact information for rehab centers, caregivers, and trusted loved ones who know your case and can help you.
Try to print out multiple copies of this plan and give them out to anyone assisting in your recovery. In this way, they have an easy-to-access list of ways they can help you avoid relapse. Make sure to check your list regularly (at least once a week) to remind yourself of what you need to do to stay sober. It’s also worth checking whenever you feel a craving coming on.
This technique is a simple way to keep your mind focused on your recovery and out of the potential trap of relapse. Beyond these simple techniques, it is also good to know that various addiction research specialists are looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of co-occurring disorder relapses. Understanding this promising future can give you hope for a permanent recovery.
Potential Future Treatments
One of the problems that plague people with co-occurring disorders is its misunderstood nature. For many people, it’s hard to understand the connection between the two and more research needs to be done. If researchers better understand the nature of the problem, they could find better ways to help people avoid relapse. Thankfully, some are already working hard now to promote better treatment.
Doctors Stanley Sacks, Redonna Chandler, and Junius Gonzales recently published a paper, Responding to the Challenge of Co-Occurring Disorders: Suggestions for Future Research, in order to brainstorm new ways of dealing with co-occurring disorders and preventing relapse. They created a three-pronged method of finding new treatment methodologies which they believe should serve as the future model for all recovery methods.
The first thing that they believe needs to happen is research that helps guide decisions for centers and people who are operating on a limited budget or with limited resources. Not every center can afford to engage in multiple research methods, so one that can be implemented inexpensively is key. Next, they believe that addiction must be researched with the understanding that it is a chronic, not acute, condition. Last, they believe that research must explore the ways in which treatments are implemented in order to improve their effectiveness.
The last point is particularly crucial because it takes into account situations such as specific mental health settings, economic conditions, criminal concerns, and various other influences that could cause relapse in a person with a co-occurring disorder. Though they offered no treatment recommendations of their own, their guidelines offer a promising future for people who want to avoid relapse.
If Relapse Does Occur
With all the great treatment opportunities available for people with co-occurring disorders, relapse can be brought down to a minimum. However, relapse risk is always there and it can threaten anyone at any time. If you suddenly find yourself falling off the wagon and you’re worried about what to do, it’s important to remember that you can recover from a relapse even as it occurs.
First, stop taking your substance immediately and reach out to an outside source for help. You can either talk to the support group you created with your integrated relapse plan or visit an outpatient rehab center. If necessary, they will help you through withdrawal and offer a friendly ear and a stable presence while you work through the difficulties caused by your relapse.
Next, you need to reach out to a counselor or psychologist right away and make an appointment. This is necessary because relapse will likely trigger negative emotions that can severely impact your mental health. With their help, you can recover from these feelings and avoid worsening your existing disorder. It may also be necessary to adjust behavioral and medical treatments if they are failing you.
After that, you should assess your state of mind and decide if a visit to an inpatient rehab center is necessary. Not everybody will need another trip after a relapse, but the sense of stability and healing promoted at these centers are likely to give you the strength you need to move past your relapse and begin your life again. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because you are surrounded by people who love you and who are willing to give you the help that you need to beat your addiction.
There’s Help: And We’re Here To Provide It
Suffering from relapse when you have co-occurring disorders is a frustrating situation and one that can lead to severe personal problems. Don’t let this happen to you. Contact us today at TurningPointTreatment.org to learn more about how we can help you recover. Recovery is a long road with a lot of bumps and turns, but with our roadmap, you can walk the path with confidence and success.