Relapse Prevention

A successful treatment programme for cocaine addiction should incorporate counselling and education. Education is a vital component in preventing relapse, which is when the user returns to cocaine abuse either regularly or uncontrollably. Cocaine addicts have to be taught to understand their triggers and the requirement for complete abstinence from all drugs. Even though abstinence is necessary for relapse prevention, it is one of several issues.

The recovering addict must recognise that relapse starts prior to drug use, learn how to predict high-risk situations and come up with other coping skills to handle the stresses of daily life. Additionally, if relapse occurs it has to be seen as a learning opportunity instead of a destructive disaster, in order to prevent recurrences.

In 2015, scientists found that cocaine ‘profoundly’ alters the brain, even after a single dose. ‘We discovered that one single shot of cocaine can completely change the brain architecture and “set up” an addict for stress induced relapse,’ said Peter McCormick, researcher at the University of East Anglia. ‘We showed that cocaine disrupts the interaction between receptors and these changes can increase the risk of relapse under stressful conditions.’

Cocaine Relapse Statistics

According to an article in the American Journal of Drug Alcohol Abuse, an average of 25-50 per cent of substance abusers will relapse within two years of undergoing treatment. Numerous studies have concluded that abstinence is the only real way to prevent relapse from occurring. Addicts who have refrained from drug use for a year have a bit over 50 per cent chance of relapsing, while those with five years or more end up with a 15 per cent chance, reported Psychology Today.

Determining exact cocaine addiction relapse statistics can be tricky because of the privacy issues involved with drug addiction treatment. For example, programmes such as Cocaine Anonymous do not keep information about their members in order to stay ‘anonymous’. It is also common for recovering addicts to stop checking in with a medical professional once they have completed the treatment or made a recovery. Without their updates, it is difficult to know if they stayed sober or if they ended up relapsing.

Regardless of the statistics, stopping a cocaine addiction is not an easy task and not every addict will be successful. Each addict faces his or her own challenges and has a very different road to recovery.

Stages of Relapse

Relapse is often misinterpreted as an event, when it is actually a process. To truly understand how to prevent relapse, it is important to grasp the stages of relapse first. Relapse can begin weeks or months before the actual physical relapse takes place. According to Terence Gorski’s book, Staying Sober: A Guide for Relapse Prevention, the three stages of relapse are: emotional, mental and physical.


Emotional Relapse

The thing about emotional relapse is that the person is not thinking about using cocaine, which can be considered as a form of denial. Recovering addicts who have relapsed before may recall their last relapse and want to prevent it from happening again. However, the person’s behaviours and emotions are laying the foundations for future relapse, which is why it is vital to realise the signs of relapse.

Girl sitting and contemplating on a background of a cloudy sky

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse occurs when a recovery addict’s mind is at war with itself. A part of them wants to stay sober, whilst another part wants to use. Occasional thoughts of using can occur amongst all recovering addicts and, initially, are not a sign of relapsing. During early mental relapse, the addict’s thoughts are fleeting and manageable. But if mental relapse occurs for too long then the power of the addiction starts to become more and more intense.

Stages of Relapse-min

Physical Relapse

If an addict starts to think about using cocaine and does not ask for help, start to take care of him or herself or talk about their cravings, their thoughts will begin to become more and more dominant until it reaches the point where they cannot think about anything else. Mental relapse can turn into physical relapse in a heartbeat. It can occur so suddenly that people do not even understand when the shift happened.

Basically, when a person does not have a proper understanding of relapse, they believe that prevention means saying ‘no’ when cocaine is available. However, that focuses on the last and most difficult stage, which is why people end up relapsing.

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Signs of Relapse 

There are several signs of relapse that recovering cocaine addicts need to watch out for so that they can realise when they should seek help.

Signs of Emotional Relapse

  • Irritability
  • Isolation
  • Keeping emotions inside
  • Focusing on other people
  • Not attending meetings
  • Not asking for help
  • Lack of self-care through eating and sleeping habits

All of these signs are centred about poor self-care, which is the core of emotional relapse. Staying in emotional relapse for some time can cause people to feel strange in their own body, which eventually causes them to start contemplating cocaine use in order to escape these feelings. Once this occurs, the person shifts from emotional to mental relapse.

Signs of Mental Relapse

  • Thinking about things, places and people that are associated to cocaine use
  • Minimising consequences of past relapses
  • Engaging with friends who still use
  • Lying
  • Bargaining
  • Looking for opportunities to use cocaine without getting caught

Since physical relapse is the final stage of relapsing, it is important to be aware of the signs of emotional and mental relapse before it reaches that point. Being able to recognise the early warning signs, as well as the acute withdrawal symptoms, can help the person catch themself before it is too late.

What to Do If You Relapse

Emotional relapse prevention is not as complicated as people make it out to be. It actually involves lessons that many of us were taught from a young age, such as getting enough rest, eating three meals a day, sharing your feelings and asking for help when you need it.

Mental relapse prevention strategies begin with thinking about the stages of your relapse. Your addictive brain is telling you that you want to use and that you will experience different consequences this time around, but this is just a bargaining method. You know that using cocaine one more time will not be enough. Consider what you could lose if you relapse. Think about the despair and hopelessness that you have experienced before.

Then change your scenery by going for a walk, for example. Do not allow your cravings to grow. Give yourself at least thirty minutes for the craving to pass since the majority of cravings disappear after some time. Also, let someone know that you are contemplating using. Attend a meeting. After all, in meetings such as Cocaine Anonymous, every single person has had the thoughts you are experiencing at some point and they will understand where you are coming from.

Talking about your cravings openly makes them much easier to handle. If you start to contemplate using cocaine, confront your thinking. Think about what would happen if you relapse and come up with ways to distract yourself from thoughts of using.  Let others know how you feel and do your recovery day by day, instead of focusing on the overwhelming thought of whether or not you can maintain abstinence.

Understand that relapse is a gradual process, watch out for early warning signs, make self-care a priority and ask for help when you need it. Remember that you are not alone.

Relapse Prevention Coping Skills

The initial rule of recovery is to understand that you do not recover from cocaine addiction by ceasing to use cocaine. You recover by starting a new life where cocaine is easier to avoid; otherwise the factors that led to your addiction will resurface. This does not mean that every aspect of your life must be different. Instead, focus on changing the behaviours and things that led to cocaine use. There are three main relapse prevention coping skills that can help with recovery:

1. Stay away from high-risk situations
2. Develop relaxation techniques
3. Be honest