There has been no shortage of sensational headlines about opioids over the last few years. But, of course, this topic is far more than clickbait headlines and pharmaceutical abuse. It is about real people. It’s about individuals still struggling to manage pain and resist abuse—all while avoiding a relapse.
Relapse happens, and it doesn’t equate to failure. With opiates, however, the statistics are daunting. Estimates range as high as 91 percent of people in opioid recovery will go through at least one relapse. Quite often, this happens within one week of attending sobriety. With that in mind, let’s start with a discussion of relapses.
What is an Opioid Relapse?
An addiction to opiates or any active substance is typically seen as a chronic illness. Thus, by definition, there is also the potential for relapse. It doesn’t mean you cannot or will not recover. But it is an obstacle on that road. A positive perspective on relapses is that they present valuable information about triggers that can help you stay sober afterward.
With opiates, your brain is activated within the system that deals with rewards. In other words, opiates trigger the release of a chemical called dopamine. This neurotransmitter results in pleasurable feelings (and a reduction of pain). Your brain gets conditioned to want a steady supply of this reward. These cravings can occur when opioids are used within prescribed doses. Such changes are long-lasting and often lead to dependence and addiction. Keep in mind that research teaches that such changes to your brain can swiftly resolve thanks to detox and rehab.
What Factors Can Trigger an Opioid Relapse?
- Old, Negative Patterns: If you are thinking and behaving as you did in the throes of addiction, you risk falling back on old “solutions.”
- Daily Stress: Day-to-day life is frequently challenging. You’ll need support to find balance.
- Lack of Support: Speaking of support, it is essential that you create a network of trustworthy friends and family members to help you stay strong.
If you slide into relapse:
- Do not berate yourself. Instead, immediately seek help in the form of a support person.
- Stop the use of opiates immediately.
- Find a new treatment plan and get yourself started.
How to Manage Pain
Needless to say, you will need to consult with your doctor about this. But rest assured that other, much safer options exist, e.g.:
- Weight loss
- Topical ointment
- Talk therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
How to Resist Abuse
A giant step to take is eschewing all drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances. Your problem is not just opioids. It’s addiction. After an opioid detox, avoiding “social” substances like alcohol or marijuana is strongly suggested. Give your mind and body time to get to a stable place before even considering moderate usage.
From there, you can do the work to create the kind of social setting that will dramatically reduce the odds of a relapse. Steps to consider:
- Reconnect and rebuild old relationships
- Create structure in your life to help sustain a healthy rhythm
- Take good care of your physical health
- Connect with others for social support—in-person and online
A Therapist is a Must
Opioid recovery is definitely not a solo act. This is one of the many reasons why people in such a scenario opt to meet regularly with a therapist. Your weekly sessions are a safe space where you can discuss, explore, and manage the many issues at hand.
If you or someone you know is coming back from opioid addiction, I invite you to reach out today to learn more about how substance abuse counseling can help.