Why Relapse?

After beating the odds and conquering the demons of addiction, why would anybody voluntarily choose to return to their previous self-destructive state? It is not uncommon for those in recovery to experience sobriety for a long period of time, and on an impulse restart the self-destructive cycle. This is what we call relapse.

Although the behavior may seem inexplicable, understanding brain chemistry sheds some light on the situation. Because the effects of drugs are so powerful, it changes the brain structure and chemistry of the user. Prolonged usage of such addictive substances leads to a reprioritization what the brain ranks as important. With time the addict’s brain can even prioritize the use of the drug above natural survival responses such as eating and sleeping.  The addict’s brain convinces itself that the consumption of the drug is more important than their life.

Our survival responses are powerful to say the least. We are hard-wired to do whatever it takes to ensure the preservation of our lives. I once witnessed a mouse stuck in a trap chew off its own arm to escape. Just like the mouse, any of us would go to undeniably extreme measures to survive in a life-threatening situation.

Because of the effects of reprioritization, addicts will go to similarly extreme measures to ensure they can continue the usage of their substance. In short addiction knows no limits. There is no price too expensive, no situation too dangerous, and no risk too great. Even after enjoying years of sobriety, there is still a danger of relapse. This is why addiction treatment must extend beyond the sphere of treatment centers. Truly, quitting the use of the drug is just the first step.