This is a follow-up from the previous post, more on relapse prevention. For those who’ve never been addicted to a drug and don’t understand how someone can go back to a drug that is obviously killing them, think about something in your life to which you can relate it, like dieting. Who has said they’re going on a diet only to find themselves stuffing chocolate in their mouth one week later? With drugs, though, the compulsion to use is much greater in early recovery. Lots of people have made resolutions that they can’t maintain. It takes discipline and support to make big changes, and when someone has had their brains rewired by drugs for years, the recovery is slow and arduous. In addiction recover, relapse happens, but it doesn’t have to kill recovery — a person can try again and again.
The good news is people can go on diets and lose weight, they can quit smoking, stop gambling, quit cheating in relationships and stay free from drugs. The mind can be rewired – we can change at any age. Science has discovered that our brain is plastic, it can change, and we can grow new cells. The old idea that we’re set in our ways or stuck with our upbringing is not true. If you think of the mind as a computer program that’s programed to believe a certain drug is holding you together, through daily or regular reinforcement, this program doesn’t change over night — it can take months or years of slow, gradual change to re-program the brain to realize deeply that the drug is poison and no longer desired. The person can know this superficially early on, because they know that others around them believe the drug is poison and that they should believe this too, but the deeper part of their brain is triggered by many cues to use the drug. To the person experiencing this trigger, it appears as if the compulsion to use comes out of the blue and has complete control, but this is an illusion.
In treatment, we teach clients how to begin changing their addict brain, how to reinforce recovery thoughts and actions on a daily basis. We teach clients how to quickly recognize triggers and how to combat the compulsion to use the drug (always remember that alcohol is a drug, too, so when the word drug is used, it also means alcohol). There’s a point between the stimulus (trigger) and the compulsion in which the person has the power, once they’ve learned how to access the power, to resist the compulsion and re-assess the stimulus. As the person in recovery practices this techniques and uses the support of others who understand the process, the person’s brain begins to change from addict brain to recovery brain. The negative thoughts of I can’t quit, or I can’t cope without the drug, become I can cope without the drug — I can thrive without the drug — then it becomes I can ONLY thrive and flourish without the drug. This is recovery. If you want to learn more on relapse prevention, Google Terence Gorski and relapse prevention.