A years-ago television drama called ER showed its audience some of the ramifications of drug addiction, and confronting it. A hard-working, conscientious doctor became accidentally addicted to painkillers after he’d been viciously assaulted by a psychotic patient in a previous episode. You can experience the drama of the people who cared about his reputation and professionalism, and his awkward response to their compassionate and forthright effort to help him past the problem here. The scene is quite realistic. It happens more often though, with tears, loud voices and threats from both sides of the confrontation.
As Murphy’s law would have it, most amateurs don’t handle the confrontation as competently as the mocked-up TV show scene would imply. Emotions are raw, self-control hard to impose. Addicts can shoot, choke, beat and otherwise harm the people facing them down, and they in turn can rely on guilt trips, threats or other ruinous tactics as they try to force an addict to admit to their problem. Confronting an addict is no simple matter. A competent therapist aka counselor can guide people in how to do it in optimal fashion.
What happens once an addict is in treatment to end their enslavement to pornography, drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping or other addiction? As indicated in the 2005-best seller Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, damage to the ventromedial medial area of the brain prevents an easy recovery. On page 60 of the book, researcher Antoine Bechara comments that “Addicts can articulate very well the consequences of their behavior. But they fail to act accordingly. That’s because of a brain problem… Damage in the ventromedial area causes a disconnect between what you know and what you do…”
The Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a much-admired institution in the rehabilitation industry shared a grim reality in a 2014 blogpost. “Fifty to 90 percent of alcoholics and addicts relapse in the first year after treatment.” Another paragraph shared sobering facts: “Relapse is caused by underestimating what it takes to stay sober. Addicts, their families, and society commonly minimize what is required for successful recovery. Addicts can’t simply think their way out of addiction. Recovery requires action. It’s much more than leaving the drug behind, whether that drug is alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, pain medications, or tranquilizers. Recovery is about changing behaviors, which leads to changes in thinking. It’s about honesty and willingness and letting go of resentments. It’s about taking a fearless look at one’s self and the wrongs of the past. It’s about cleaning house and making amends.”
As any competent addictions therapist will agree, an addict has “work to do” in order to recover. They must end what’s called “Stinkin’ Thinkin’,” the process of engaging in inconsistent thought processes, counter-productive bromides and lame excuses for remaining stuck in counter-productive behaviors and decision-making processes. That takes focus and constant effort. Add it to the stress of withdrawing from addictive substances and you’ll have a better understanding of the substance abuse rehabilitation process. Many people fail to overcome their addictions. It takes a hero to do it. The good news is that many heroes have succeeded in leaving their addictions in the past. They and superb addiction therapists reach out to addicts, to turn them into heroes, too.
Relapse is a part of the rehabilitation process. Mortals fail from time to time. The pain of human relationships, disappointments and life’s difficult demands leave some people reaching for relief to forget or to ease the pain. This is especially true for people in transition from addiction to sobriety. The issue is addressed at the National Institute on Drug Abuse site, in one succinct paragraph: “Does relapse to drug abuse mean treatment has failed?”
No. The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse at some point is not only possible, but likely. Relapse rates (i.e., how often symptoms recur) for people with addiction and other substance use disorders are similar to relapse rates for other well-understood chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried.“
When you or someone you care about must go through the rehabilitation process to recover from some sort of addiction, knowing that relapses can happen can leave you better braced for the impact. Remain in steady communication with the therapist involved and ask questions about how best to handle instances of relapse. Your preparation for the process can mean a world of difference for the addict struggling to deal with life insightfully, bravely, and without escapism into addictive substances.