As the family member or friend of someone who is struggling with addiction, it’s easy to become frustrated by your loved one’s repeated attempts to quit.1 It’s easy to think that if they really wanted to stop, they would.

Don’t take any more drugs.

In the minds of those who have never struggled with addiction it should be that simple. Unfortunately, because addiction is a disease, it’s not that simple at all. People who have developed the disease of addiction think differently, behave differently and make decisions that are often outside of their control.

Addiction: Brain Disease

Different types of drugs work in the brain in different ways, but essentially there are two mechanisms at work.2 Either the drug imitates certain neurotransmitters to create feelings of euphoria, or they disrupt the production and absorption of naturally-occurring neurotransmitters to increase or prolong natural euphoria. The side effects are the same in either case.

Over time the brain becomes accustomed to these changes and soon the person needs more of the drug to produce the same results. This is known as tolerance.3 As tolerance increases the brain becomes entirely dependent upon the drugs. In some cases, the individual may discover they can’t have real emotions or pleasure at all, so they continue to abuse drugs in order to feel anything. Soon, physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms appear when they are not abusing drugs or when they try to quit.

Some of these withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia

The disease of addiction is a chronic condition for which there is no cure. But there are treatment options that can help an individual regain control over her health and life. The decision to abuse drugs may be out of their control, but the decision to get the help to overcome addiction is firmly within a person’s grasp with the right incentives.

The Why of Addiction Relapse

Nurse taking blood pressureChronic diseases often require treatment on an ongoing basis. An individual who suffers from diabetes, for example, may have dangerous spikes in their blood sugar that require a visit to a doctor to adjust his medication, diet or exercise regime. Those with high blood pressure may find they need to visit their doctor because their blood pressure has risen and is no longer responding to medication. The same is true for the disease of addiction. In the case of chronic illnesses, the need for modification is not a sign of treatment failure, it’s simply a setback.

When a person relapses in the fight to control addiction, adjustments to the treatment plan can help him stay on the road to recovery.

Treatment adjustments range from returning to an inpatient treatment facility or rehab center for a few days, or even a full term of treatment, to increasing participation in 12-Step recovery groups. Necessary adjustments might also include reevaluating relationships that are detrimental to their goals. A person in recovery may need to attend extra counseling sessions to regain control over the co-occurring disorder that perpetuates the desire to abuse drugs.

Each person who battles addiction is unique. That’s why each treatment plan is different and depends on the individual’s current situation and circumstances. The most important thing to remember about relapse is to recognize the signs get help as quickly as possible.

Recognizing Relapse During Recovery

There are many symptoms of drug addiction and drug relapse. If you or your loved one is in treatment, you may recognize some of the symptoms of relapse in their behaviors. According the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms may include:

  • Frequently abandoning responsibilities to work or school
  • Lethargy, depending upon the drugs involved
  • Rapid speech
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Appearance of intoxication
  • Slowed breathing
  • Poor judgment
  • Lack of interest in activities that normally are important4

Not every person who has developed addiction will exhibit all of these symptoms. Some individuals who abuse drugs regularly are excellent parents or employees. Others may still participate in their favorite hobbies. You know your loved ones better than anyone. Use your best judgment to determine whether they are behaving in a way that is reminiscent of their prior addiction habits. Ask yourself if they are spending money irresponsibly with nothing to show for the expenditures. Do they become defensive if you ask them about their drug use? These could be signs of addiction relapse.

What If My Loved One Won’t Admit to Using Drugs Again?

If the relapse involves more than a single use, your loved one may be experiencing a significant relapse. They may disregard the lessons they learned during their original treatment period, causing them to revert to old belief patterns. When this happens, it may be necessary to begin the recovery process with an intervention.

An intervention is a process through which you can show your loved one how much you care for them while letting them know the impact their addiction is having on their life and the lives of their loved ones.

An interventionist can educate you and your family members about the disease of addiction and help you prepare to confront your family member. Each member of the intervention team will write a letter explaining how the disease has changed the individual and how those changes have affected the team member.

The team member generally ends the letter with an ultimatum saying the addict needs to get help or suffer specific consequences, such as:
  • If you don’t get help, I will not give you any more money.
  • If you don’t get help, I can’t allow you to stay in my home.
  • If you don’t get help, I can’t allow you to be around my children.
  • If you don’t get help, I will be unable to spend time with you because I can’t watch you destroy yourself.
  • If you don’t get help, I will be forced to contact the authorities when you steal from me, steal from others, or are in possession of drugs.

The individual who has suffered the relapse does not read the letters personally. Each member of the team reads his or her letter aloud to their loved ones. This ensures that, despite heightened emotional distress, the individual has the opportunity to say everything he needs or wants to say. At the end of each letter, the team members ask if their loved one is willing to go to a treatment facility. If the answer is “yes,” they should immediately be taken to a facility. If the answer is “no,” the next individual in the group begins their letter. If at the end of the process the individual still refuses to seek treatment, it is important to live up to the ultimatums given.

An intervention can be a stressful, emotional, and chaotic event when handled improperly. Having the assistance of a trained professional to mediate the event can increase the likelihood of intervention success.

Finding Help for Drug Addiction or Relapse

If you or someone you love has relapsed into addiction, we can help. Whether your loved one needs a few days of care or you need to stage an intervention, our professionals can help you find the best course of action. Call us at 706-914-2327 to talk with our admissions team about available treatment options.


1Addiction Science.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA. 29 July 2015.

2Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.” NIDA. June 2018.

36: Definition of Tolerance.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA. Accessed 12 June 2018.

4Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 26 Oct. 2017.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at Black Bear Lodge. For more specific information on programs at Black Bear Lodge, contact us today.