Addiction is a relapsing disorder, just as are all serious chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, allergic conditions and asthmatic bronchitis. Just as in these illnesses, the first goal is to prevent relapse.
The second line of defense is to have a solid care system in place, should a slip or relapse occur. The asthmatic patient hopefully will have a loved one nearby whom they could call upon for help. There should be an attending physician, medications and, if necessary, 9-1-1 and an emergency room close by for urgent help.
The approach to rescue from relapse is the same for the addicted patient. Hopefully, in the course of treatment and recovery, the patient has “recruited” a strong support system, including family, loved ones, fellow recovering peers, a sponsor, a recovery home group, a therapist and a knowledgeable physician. Just like the asthmatic patient, there might come a time when preventive measures fail and intervention must come from “outside.”
In addictive disorder relapse, the brain itself is impaired and the patient might not be able to have sufficient motivation, judgment and strength to reach out for help. It is then that the support system must “rescue” the patient back into the treatment process and back into the support system. As in all illnesses, the best defense against relapse is a strong, comprehensive recovery program and life style. Should relapse occur in the course of addiction, it is important for the patient to know about the words of the Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous who said, “ . . . the slip or relapse can kick us upstairs not down.”
The patient can emerge from the relapse with an even stronger program of recovery and go on to help many, many others.