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Many people believe relapse occurs when someone who has been drug free for a period of time begins using again. In reality, relapse is a process that begins before the person actually begins using again.

The brain is altered as a result of genetic susceptibility, the conditions (physical and environmental), and the substance(s) used. Even after long periods of abstinence the brain never returns to it s pre-alteration state. This means the person is always  at risk to return to active disease.

Cues and triggers are people, places, sounds, almost anything that the brain has associated with use. When confronted with these cue and triggers, especially during times of stress and/or illness, the areas of the brain involved in the disease of chemical dependence can be activated. It s possible for this activation to be below the level of awareness of the involved individual. As a result of these repeated cues and triggers, the person’s thinking patterns can be altered and a return to use is possible. The process can be aborted if the early signs of relapse are recognized, usually by those around the individual. This is why a strong support system which includes other recovering people is so important to remaining clean and chemical free.

Follow the links to the left for additional discussions about relapse and it s prevention. There are also discussions about when a return to a more formal treatment program may be appropriate.

Relapse, craving, and cues


Cue Induced Cocaine Cravings Reduced by Disruption of Drug Memory Reconsolidation


Animal Models and Brain Circuitry in Addiction


Hardest Habit to Break: Memories of the High


Addiction and the Problem of Relapse

PET Scan of a Brain of an Addict Craving Cocaine

Source: NIDA

To the Addicted Nurse