Environment and Relapse

Last Updated: Sep 20th 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

For people going through a south Florida drug rehab, they will no doubt hear at some point that two thirds of people who successfully finish treatment will relapse within the first year and may even find those numbers discouraging. However, centers that offer substance abuse treatment in Florida are also aware of this statistic and understand that gaining control over a substance use disorder is not always an easy task, nor is it a quick task. It’s not a one-size-fits-all process when treating patients seeking help and it’s important to not see relapse as a complete failure of treatment, but a sign that more must be done.

Relapses are often triggered by environmental factors. These can be everything from social surroundings to physical surroundings to a mixture of both. They can also come from unlikely places, even as bizarre as seeing a television commercial at a certain time of day. It really depends on the person how these environmental factors play out, which makes it difficult to get ‘right’ in treatment on the first try, especially for obscure environmental ‘triggers’.

It’s well known that environment is highly influential in addiction. Multiple studies by multiple universities and research groups using cocaine and mice have proven that learned behavior in association with addiction is a strong link that can create higher levels of risk of relapse if left unchecked. When a person is developing a substance use disorder, memories play a strong role in how that addiction is registered within the neurobiology of the brain, which changes on each use and is also linked with non-chemical addictions that have also become notable recently such as internet and social media addictions. The environment, when combined with memory and reward structures which can vary wildly but often times are associated with substance use, instill an almost ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ response. Pavlov’s dog experiment involved feeding a dog a treat after ringing a bell. Eventually, the treat was removed and when the bell was rung, the dog would salivate, even after a long time from the treat being removed from the situation.

To an addict in recovery, a similar kind of ‘mental salivation’ or ‘itch to use’ can be triggered in this same way, but without any intentional effort by the person themselves or even others around them. It is often why relapses occur in the first place; someone is taken off guard by something that seems completely innocuous. However, it must be understood that this relapse is not necessarily a failure, but a learning moment for the patient in the right frame of mind to recognize the event, even if they succumb to it. Addressing the environmental factors will strengthen their ability to control their substance use disorder over time. While it might feel like a setback, if the patient is still willing to beat their addiction, there’s much to learn from these moments that will ensure future success in their battle.

Addiction is a chronic illness that affects more than two million Americans and most go untreated. If you or someone you know could be suffering from addiction, call First Step Behavioral Health at (866) 319-6126 for professional drug rehab in Ft. Lauderdale.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.

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