Why Rehab May Take More than One Attempt

Why Rehab May Take More than One Attempt

Relapse is common in recovery and many people require more than one rehab experience

Relapse is a frustratingly frequent part of the recovery process. Whether a person is struggling with addiction, a compulsive behavioral disorder (or “process addiction”) or another life-controlling psychological disorder, the road to wellness frequently involves failures, distractions and heartbreak. These setbacks, however, need not mean the end of recovery. For many successfully recovered individuals they are essential learning experiences.

Relapse and Psychological Dysfunction

The brain manages a wide range of critical emotional functions in an area nicknamed the “pleasure center” of the prefrontal cortex. Tiny bursts of naturally occurring “feel good” chemicals correspond with certain behaviors. The brain recognizes those signals and then creates new neural pathways to reinforce and encourage them to happen automatically. This process supports the following functions:

  • Appetite and eating
  • Sexual attraction, function and bonding
  • The formation and recollection of memories
  • Impulse control
  • Anger and rage responses
  • Managing feelings

Drug and alcohol abuse stimulate the pleasure center with massive jolts of these feel good substances. The result is a blockage of negative emotions and physical symptoms (pain, hunger) and the promotion of a euphoric state. When the brain builds neural pathways to drive the associated behavior it becomes nearly automatic. It becomes a habit.

This entire process happens in a part of the brain that is removed from, and much more powerful than conscious thought or will. In fact, this entire process is designed to automate certain frequent behaviors so that the more limited conscious part of the brain can be used for decision-making, analysis and other higher functions. This is why people who consciously choose to quit using drugs or to stop compulsively gambling or starving themselves, often fail. The underlying emotional drive to feel good is stronger than the rational desire to stay sober. Recovery is therefore focused on the process of making new habits out of healthy behaviors. This takes considerable time and even as the new pathways are established, the dysfunctional pathways supporting the problematic behaviors remain intact. They need only to be re-awakened by a repeated behavior such as the taking of a drink or a burst of adrenaline associated with a certain behavior.

Building New Habits

The process of building new habits out of conscious decisions takes repetition, consistency, accountability and alternate rewards. Recovering addicts benefit from the emotional and enthusiastic support of friends and loved ones as well as the personal rewards associated with reduced stress, fear and anxiety.

One of the most important aspects of effective recovery is the introduction to healthy new coping techniques. It is important to help the individual learn to tolerate discomfort or other triggers and to increase the “feel good” part of sobriety. Again, this takes time, repetition, accountability and support. Many recovering addicts, for instance, overcome the physical aspects of addiction in a matter of a week or two, but wrestle with the psychological aspects of their disorder for months, years or even decades. For an alcoholic one drink can completely derail years of sobriety. For a drug addict it might take just one hit. For a person recovering from an eating disorder one relapse can bring all of his or her symptoms roaring back to life – even after months or years of recovery.

24-Hour Recovery Helpline

If you would like more information about preventing or recovering from relapse please call our toll-free helpline today. We are standing by any time of day or night to support your recovery or to help you find the treatment you need. Call now.