A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Steps after returning to alcohol or drug use

Research studies show nearly 70% of people who are alcohol or opioid dependent relapse within one year. Relapse, also referred to as return to use, can occur for many reasons.

An older couple walking hand-in-hand outside on a path discussing return to use for alcohol or drugs

Friends and family can be your support through recovery or return to use.

Paula Hensel, addiction medicine nurse practitioner with Family Health Center’s Marshfield Alcohol, Drug and Recover Center, said being in an overwhelming situation may trigger someone. Examples may include:

  • Sudden loss of a friend or family member
  • Contact with law enforcement
  • Seeing old friends who use substances
  • Being in a place where they used to use substances
  • Anniversaries of painful events

“Every person is different as to what may trigger them,” she said.

Because these stressful situations can happen unexpectedly, it’s important to take care of your basic needs during addiction recovery and find a support system. Also, it is important to understand what type of events may trigger you to map out a plan.

“Remember that substance use disorder, no matter what the substance, is a brain disease,” Hensel said. “There should be no shame or guilt associated with the diagnosis or struggles. It is no different than having trouble with heart disease or diabetes. This is a medical condition.”

Return to use is part of addiction recovery

If you find yourself wanting to return to use, first step is reach out for help. Call your counselor, sponsor or provider immediately to get back to the treatment you need.

Marshfield Clinic Health System partners with Family Health Center Inc. of Marshfield for various Alcohol and Drug Recovery Centers locations near you.

Friends and family can be your support through recovery or return to use. Hensel said her best advice for friends and family members of someone who is recovering from substance use is “if you see something, say something.”

“If there is a behavior change, the old friends are coming around, physical changes, their appearance, anything out of the usual is a reason to say something in what we call a trauma responsive manner,” Hensel said.

She explained that it is important to not accuse the person but talk to them in a kind manner such as, “I noticed you look like you are really tired, and your hair isn’t done like you usually do it. Is something going on? I am worried about you.”

This opens the conversation and shows the person you are genuinely concerned with their wellbeing.

Your safety is top priority

In some instances, when a return to use has occurred, you may need to make sure that the person is medically safe.

  • Do they need urgent or medical care?
  • Do they need detoxification in a medically supervised setting?
  • Are they suicidal? Does crisis need to be involved?

These are all questions that need to be answered.

Substance abuse with opioids can be a higher risk of overdose. The person’s opiate receptors have been reset and their tolerance is much less after a period of sobriety.

“If they return to using what they were prior to sobriety, it could be too much for them leading to overdose,” Hensel said.

This is why safety of the person who returned to use is the most important. Call 911 in a medical emergency.

Sobriety is possible

Even if you have returned to substance use, recovery is a process. Hensel said in her role, she is always glad that someone called and is willing to receive help.

“If the person needs more care than we can provide in the outpatient setting, we will help make those connections,” she said.

If you are struggling with a substance use issue, talk to your primary care provider or contact Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center, Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc. at 1-844-288-8324.

If you are struggling with substance use, reach out for support.

Find an Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center location Message your provider

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