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When someone in recovery from opioid dependence or addiction relapses, it can be devastating. To manage opioid use disorder in recovery involves purposeful and active use of opioid relapse prevention methods. To learn more about how to avoid opioid relapse, read on.
Opioid Use Disorder Causes Changes in the Brain
The use of opioids over an extended period leads to profound changes to occur in the brain. This can happen when someone is using the drug recreationally. Also, people who are use opioids for pain control with a doctor’s oversight can also experience these same brain changes.
Opioids work by attaching to the opioid receptors in the brain. Once that happens, the person feels relief of any pain, as well as a sense of euphoria and relaxation. The brain records this effect as pleasurable, and the person then connects it with a situation or place. Later, when they revisit the associated place or situation they are triggered to relive the same effect as before. This then leads to continued opioid use.
What Triggers an Opioid Relapse?
After someone has completed a treatment program for opioid use disorder, they typically struggle with the brain mechanism that has triggered drug use in the past. Even after months of therapy, they may succumb to a trigger. In fact, the chance of an opioid relapse is higher than other substance use disorders. A study from Ireland reported that 91% of patients relapsed, with 59% of those relapsing within one week of discharge.
This occurs because the brain changes do not just correct themselves after treatment, and can persist for a very long time. The long-lasting alterations in brain chemistry due to opioid use disorder are difficult to overcome, but surely not impossible.
There are common triggers that can result in a relapse. These include:
- Prolonged stress.
- Dealing with emotions that were numbed with opioids.
- Mental health issues.
- Loneliness or isolation.
- Exposure to drugs.
- Being too confident.
Dangers of Opioid Relapse
An opioid relapse carries some inherent dangers. This is because while in active addiction, the body adapts to the drug as consumption increases. Slowly, it builds tolerance to the effects of the opioid. However, after a period of abstinence, such as while in treatment and beyond, that tolerance dissipates. A relapse may lead to the person taking his or her usual dose, which the body cannot handle. This results in an overdose.
The other danger is the drug supply itself. In recovery, the person may have lost touch with the drug connections they had in the past. When a relapse occurs, they may resort to obtaining the opioid from an unknown source. This can result in drugs that are tainted with fentanyl, which may also lead to overdose.
Signs of Opioid Relapse
Being aware of the warning signs of relapse is half the battle. There are some common signs that a relapse may be imminent. These include:
- Avoiding sober support system. Someone in the process of a relapse will begin to avoid connecting with their recovery support network. They may avoid contact with their sponsor or stop going to A.A. or N.A meetings.
- Isolating behaviors. Someone in recovery who starts skipping social events or staying away from friends and family may be veering towards relapse. A mental health issue may be making things worse, such as depression.
- Forgoing healthy habits. The person might start neglecting personal hygiene or their general appearance. They may stop adhering to the healthy lifestyle habits they’d formed in recovery.
- Longing for the substance. The person may romanticize their past opioid use, blocking out the negative history of the addiction. When they ignore the adverse effects it had on their lives, they create an opening for relapse.
- Reconnecting with old crowd. A sign of relapse is when the person resumes contact with people they used to hang out with during addiction. This puts them back in the path of opioid exposure.
Relapse Prevention Actions
When you are aware of the signs of relapse and catch yourself in the process, you have a good chance of averting the relapse. Here are some tips for opioid relapse prevention:
- Ask for help. Be proactive and reach out for help if you find yourself slipping. Contact your sober support group and make an appointment to see your therapist. Do whatever it takes to surround yourself with support.
- Refine your relapse prevention plan. Address the sources of stress or potential triggers and make an updated list of steps to take. The relapse prevention plan helps you remain accountable to your recovery.
- Be honest with yourself. Check in with yourself and conduct a personal inventory. Are you missing meetings? Have you been hanging out with old friends who use? Have you deceived yourself into thinking you are invincible?
- Find new interests. Another protective measure is to discover new hobbies or interests. Look for meaningful activities that you can integrate into your weekly life. These can serve as a distraction from relapse.
- Commit to more meetings. As soon as you feel yourself slipping toward relapse, recommit to daily meetings. Contact your sponsor, and if you don’t have one yet, get one.
- Restore healthy routines. Lapsing back into old bad habits, like not getting enough sleep or eating junk food are signs of impending relapse. Notice if you have let these things slip and commit to restoring your healthy routines.
- Learn to relax. Stress is a major trigger for relapse. Take steps to reduce stress in your life with massage, yoga, meditation, or keeping a journal to help you relax.
If a relapse occurs even after following these opioid relapse prevention tips, it is best to re-enroll in a treatment program. Returning to treatment helps you restart your commitment to abstinence.
Rehabs Malibu Leading Provider of Opioid Addiction Treatment
Rehabs Malibu offers a comprehensive program for the treatment of opioid use disorder. If you are struggling, or have relapsed, please contact us today at (424) 425-3541.