Dear Laura, I can stop using cocaine for weeks, the longest I have stayed clean is 3 months. But I always seem to be depressed, being sober is not all that great, so I go back to using cocaine and I feel better, why, if it is so bad for me?
Thank you for this question, many people have had sincere intentions to quit using alcohol or other drugs, only to find themselves eventually returning to their old behavior after a period of non-use, this is called a “relapse”. A relapse is will most likely occur to every person who combats the disease of chemical dependency, and thus relapse brings an opportunity to understand this brain disease.
According to Terence T. Gorski, internationally known for his contributions in relapse prevention, states that “relapse is a process“. Relapse begins long before the person takes the first hit, drink or pill.
There are 10 phases in the Relapse Process, the symptoms of external dysfunction:
- Return to Denial – denial about well-being
- Avoidance and Defensive Behavior – defensive against concerns, compulsive, tendency toward loneliness
- Crisis Building – tunnel vision, minor depression, loss of daily planning
- Immobilization – feelings that nothing can be solved, daydreaming, immature wish to be happy
- Confusion and Overreaction – easily angered, irritated with friends, periods of confusion
- Depression – irregular eating and sleeping habits,loss of desire to take action, loss of daily structure
- Behavioral Loss of Control – develop “I don’t care attitude”, open rejection of help, irregular attendance at AA/NA support groups, feeling powerless
- Recognition of Loss of Control – thoughts of using, conscious lying,self-pity,complete loss of self-confidence
- Option Reduction – unreasonable resentments, discontinue support group meetings,overwhelming loneliness, frustration, anger and tension
- The RELAPSE Episode – the “lapse” is the initial use, followed by shame, guilt, complete loss of control, thus reactivating the Biopsychosocial damage to the brain, causing further dysfunction.
The disease of Addiction, (i.e. Alcoholism / chemical dependency) is primarily, the brain having an abnormal response to mood altering chemicals in the reward-pleasure part of the brain. This is why the disease comes out like a raging bull when the substance use has stopped, the diseased brain is screaming for relief. In early recovery, the dependent persons emotional, mental and physical state are still in the healing stage, and the need for the drug is the only relief the brain can consider.
Many people relapse in the first 30-90 days of sobriety because of failure to learn information about the disease concept of addiction, and strategies to help recover from the symptoms and damage of this life long disease. This information gathering is one of the tasks in “Stage 3- Preparation”, in the stages of change.
To those that are battling this disease, be kind and patient with yourself. The brain takes a long time to heal, depending on the method and amount of use, age of first use, and the environmental factors in the persons life. All true and lasting change takes time.
This column is for the delivery of Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) information, responding to your questions and comments. Remember, if you have a question, many people have the same question. Please ask. Laura