In terms of substance abuse and addiction treatment, relapse prevention is one of the core areas of treatment which is at times overlooked by people who are seeking treatment. Often people feel that after they have stopped using drugs or alcohol, that this is all the work that they need to do. Unfortunately, this is not the case and many people can attest to the fact that during their early recovery, that the lack of follow through in their treatment meant that they put themselves at risk of using again.
For people who have had significant issues with drug or alcohol use, to the point that they need to seek treatment and this use has caused negative effects on their lives, it is important to ensure that after ceasing abusive levels of use, that there is a time when the person does not use at all. Many treatments now state that people who have suffered from a substance abuse disorder should stay away from drugs and alcohol altogether (remain abstinent). This long term abstinence is due to the fact that drugs can alter the way the brain rewards itself and communicates with itself. Due to the ‘high’ of alcohol and drug use, these behaviours are strongly reinforced (despite negative consequences) and as a result they tend to occur more and more frequently. These pathways become stronger and the brain craves the high and as a result the individual starts using more of the substance as a coping mechanism. The disease model of addiction states that, even when abstinent, these pathways can remain dormant, ready for any potential future use, hence the reason for an insistence on long term abstinence.
The work that it takes to get clean and sober is only the first step, and often when leaving primary treatment, clients will be advised that discharge is when recovery starts, rather than ends. This is one of the most important parts of recovery, being able to work with being clean and sober and doing this on your own, rather than in a primary treatment setting. Aftercare treatment can involve ongoing therapy, twelve step fellowship meetings such as Alcoholic’s and Narcotic’s Anonymous. Your relapse prevention plan may also engage with online counselling, which provides you with access to treatment anytime and anywhere, meaning that there are limited gaps in your recovery.
The main issue of importance, however, is to remember that your recovery relies on you being consistent and ensuring that you have a good post primary care plan, so that you do not fall into old traps of using.