Site icon Beat Addiction Recovery

Understanding Relapse As Part of Alcohol Use Disorder Recovery


For many individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD), relapse is a common part of the recovery process.  While frustrating and agonizing for the individual and their loved ones, relapse should be viewed as part of the recovery process and its causes explored to determine how to better manage them to prevent future relapses.  Before examining common causes of relapse, it is important to acknowledge a few facts about AUD.

AUD is a complex disease that affects the brain and behavior.   Managing addiction is a challenging and lifelong process.  With continued drinking, progressive changes occur in the structure and function of the brain.  A new study found that even one alcoholic drink a day was linked to reduced brain size.  Despite the many negative consequences of alcohol abuse, a person with AUD is at times unable to control their alcohol use.

Relapse can be the result of many factors and events.  Below is a discussion of factors that can increase the likelihood of relapse.

  1. Triggers that Lead to Cravings
    Triggers are events or circumstances that can lead to overwhelming cravings for alcohol.  Triggers can be internal and external.  Stress and boredom are examples of internal triggers.  External triggers can be related to being in certain situations or environments or major life events- either positive or negative.
  2. Co-occurring Mental Health Conditions
    Recovery can be further complicated for individuals with both AUD and other mental health conditions.  Since co-occurring conditions can contribute to AUD and/or increase the risk of relapse, all mental health conditions need to be managed as part of the individual’s recovery.
  3. Lack of Support Systems
    A strong support system is a critical ingredient for a successful and sustained recovery.  Without a strong support system, individuals with AUD may develop a feeling of isolation and become overwhelmed with the process of recovery.

Many individuals with AUD could benefit from medication-assisted therapy (MAT).  MAT is the use of medication in combination with counseling and other therapeutic techniques, such as peer support.  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat substance use disorders, and for some medications can help sustain recovery.”  MAT provides a whole-patient approach to recovery.

Three medications are FDA-approved for AUD:  naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate.  One important benefit of these medications is that they can be prescribed at the primary care level and therefore their availability is not limited to specialty medical providers or centers.  These medications vary in many ways, such as frequency of administration, form of administration and principal action.   All of these factors need to be taken into consideration to find the best fit for each patient.  To learn more about these medications, SAMHSA provides a useful guide available here.

Despite the efficacy and availability of medications to treat AUD, many individuals do not receive medication as part of their recovery.  According to SAMHSA’s 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 15% of individuals who received treatment for their alcohol use received MAT.  Less than 10% of all individuals with AUD receive any treatment at all.

What can you do to get help for yourself or someone you know? Learn about all of the available options and reach out to us today.  For more information about our naltrexone-based MAT program, click here.

Exit mobile version