Relapse is not necessarily a natural part of recovery. While it is true that many drug addicts and alcoholics relapse when trying to get sober, we have found that relapse is most often due to incomplete treatment at a drug rehab center which can be the result of various factors.
What do we mean?
1. We do not look at addiction as a disease. It is unclear what the genetic predisposition to addiction might be. On the one hand, there are families and ethnic groups that seem to have a higher rate of addiction than others. On the other hand, this higher rate of addiction could as easily be from “nurture” as “nature.” In other words, if you see your father drink to solve his problems, you might use the same tool in the face of problems you don’t know how to handle too – with or without a genetic predisposition. The truth is that even though the entire human genome has been mapped, there still is no clear understanding of what genes cause addiction. That answer might come in the future and it might not. Only time will tell.
What we have found in treating addicts is that the addict is not served by using a disease model of addiction. If you tell a person with substance use disorder that he has a disease from which he will never recover, to expect relapse, and to understand that he will die if he does not carefully manage his disease, do not be surprised when he throws up his hands saying, “There is no hope!” and returns to using.
2. Hope is given when addiction is seen as a behavioral disorder. This is why we approach substance abuse as a behavioral disorder. From alcoholism, Vicodin abuse, or even a sleep aid addiction, we let the addict know that addiction is simply an ingrained habit that he will need help overcoming, but that can absolutely be overcome. There is hope and there is a future for him. Relapse could occur, but it need not, if the underlying causes of the addiction are faced and he develops new tools to help him cope with difficult situations as they arise. The addict can fully recover. With this hope and understanding of addiction, relapses, if they occur at all, can be short and easily overcome.