Stinkin' Thinkin: The Mistakes of Relapse and the Lessons of Recovery, Part 3


Mistake #14 -Lacking a Support System

Because active addiction can drive a wedge between substance abusers and their loved ones, many people think they have to recover completely on their own.

Alternately, they may hesitate to ask for help from their family and friends, because they put hem through so much when they were drinking and drugging.

Both of these mindsets are mistakes, because one of the best resources for someone in recovery is a strong personal support system.

Lesson -Personal Support Makes All the Difference

NO ONE can truly recover without the help of other people. In times of overwhelming stress or temptation they can be the strong, steadying influence that keeps us on the right path.

Normally, support comes from family members and close friends, but when that’s not a current option, there are other sources that can help keep us sober.

  • Counselors provide the tools for success.
  • Sponsors offer guidance.
  • Peers in recovery hold us accountable.
  • Employee assistance programs can connect us to other resources.

Mistake #15 -Trying to Use Other Substances

A lot of people erroneously believe that addiction is substance-specific, and they should be able to safely use substances other than their primary drug of choice.

For example, if they are dependent on heroin, they think it’s still OK to drink alcohol during recovery. Or, if they have a drinking or painkiller problem, they want to still be able to smoke weed.

They’ll give excuses to justify their continued substance use:

  • I need something to unwind…”
  • At least it’s not (their drug of choice).”
  • It’s ONLY pot/beer/a few pills.”

Lesson -Addiction is Addiction is Addiction

But that way of thinking ignores the fact that ALL addictive substances affect the brain in similar ways, altering the regions responsible for:

  • Pleasure
  • Reward
  • Learning
  • Motivation
  • Cognition
  • Moral reasoning
  • Impulsivity
  • Decision-making

Anyone who has ever been addicted to ANY substance is vulnerable to ALL intoxicants.

Furthermore, they tend to go back to their regular drug of choice.

This is because people tend to make poor choices when they are impaired by any mind-altering substance. When their judgment is clouded, and inhibitions are lowered, any good intentions they might have become irrelevant.

Of special relevance, recent research conducted suggests that smoking marijuana may trigger relapses in alcoholics and drug addicts.

Scientists with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Vrije University in Amsterdam found that blocking the brain’s cannabinoid receptors assists people who are trying to stop smoking, drinking alcohol, or using heroin or cocaine.

Mistake #16 -Thinking They are Cured

After achieving any significant period of sobriety, some people in recovery will start to wrongly believe that they are cured—they think their problem is completely under control and they can now drink and use drugs socially, “just like other people”.

But when they try this, they invariably lose control, relapse, and end up back where they were before – or worse.  This is the nature of addiction.

Lesson – There is No Cure for Addiction

Unfortunately, there is currently no proven cure for SUD.  People who develop this illness will ALWAYS have it, and successful recovery means careful management for the rest of their life.  In this way, addiction is like other chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

For example, a person with diabetes can’t go back to regularly eating a ton of sugary foods, no matter how long their glucose levels have been well-controlled.

It is a complicated disease with many causal and contributing factors.  In many ways, scientists are just beginning to understand how addiction works, and there is still so very much to learn.

But again, as with other chronic diseases, there are ways to manage the disease, limit the damage it causes, and live a happy, healthy, and productive life.

And to use the analogy one more time, just as the diabetic stays healthy by watching their carbohydrate intake, taking their medication, losing weight, and exercising more, so must person with SUD take steps to safeguard their sobriety:

  • Specialized addiction treatment
  • Lifestyle changes
  • 12-Step meeting attendance
  • Personal support system
  • Medication
  • Continuing aftercare

Mistake #17 -Becoming Overconfident

Sometimes, a person has too easy a time on some areas of early recovery—instead of difficult detox, people withdrawal symptoms, and multiple slips, they make it through these early stages with little difficulty.  This gives them the mistaken notion that recovery is “easy” and that they don’t have to work as hard as they were led to believe.

Lesson – Addiction is Powerful

But ease of success in one aspect of recovery does not mean there will be difficulties in other areas.  At some point, everyone in recovery faces a barrier or a problem that is bigger than they are.  And if they are not prepared, this can jeopardize their sobriety.

This goes back to the First Step of Recovery, where the person admits that their addiction has gone beyond their control.  And because of that, they will need to work harder than they ever have and accept more outside help than ever before that they are to successfully recover.

Recovery isn’t easy at all.  In fact, it may be the hardest thing ever, because it means battling against one’s own brain.

Mistake #18 -Complacency

Alternately, a person who has achieved any significant length of regained sobriety may feel that they can now relax and let their recovery take care of itself, almost on autopilot.

This is a mistake, because addiction has been referred to as a “cunning” disease that can strike at any time. The late actor and comedian Robin Williams infamously relapsed after 20 years of sobriety. About his experience, he said, “It waits. It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘It’s fine now. I’m OK.’ Then the next thing you know, it’s not OK.”

Lesson – Recovery Requires Vigilance

For that reason, a person in recovery should ALWAYS keep that first and foremost in their mind.  For the rest of their life, they will have to make multiple decisions every day that support their continued sobriety.  A person is more likely to be caught off-guard when they are:

  • Tired
  • Overworked
  • Bored
  • Lonely
  • Frustrated
  • Angry
  • Stressed
  • Hungry
  • Worried

These are the times when it becomes far too easy to return to active substance use.  Consequently, this is when anyone in recovery needs to be most aware of their emotional state, their thoughts, and their actions.


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