What to Do When You Fear Relapse
In times of uncertainty and increased stress, anxiety can become overwhelming. Especially during a threatening event, in which you have no control. For example, the current COVID-19 pandemic has almost everyone feeling stressed and unsure. These overwhelming distressing thoughts and feelings can lead anyone down a path to unhealthy coping mechanisms. For those who have suffered from substance abuse, including opioid addiction, this crisis can be a significant trigger. Cravings of using can return, and these cravings are often followed by guilt and shame. In many cases, individuals will suffer in silence. Without adequate support, anxiety, negative thoughts, and unsettling feelings can result in drug relapse.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are in an undefined period of self-quarantine and social distancing. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can become pervasive. Loneliness is a profound type of grief and contributes to many health problems, including depression and anxiety which can lead to unwanted substance use. Prolonged isolation can lead to a state of perceived helplessness, triggering a fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is a biologically programmed automatic response where the part of our brain that regulates thinking and perception shuts down – and the amygdala – our fight or flight brain, becomes the active process. This state can vary from subtle anxiety to panic and is very often the cause of an unwanted craving or relapse.
As regular human contact and routines are interrupted; this is a time when increased support and understanding may be critical. As our focus and concerns remain on how to prevent being infected with the coronavirus, those who struggle with unwanted substance use can go unnoticed. Individuals may feel scared to tell their family and friends who supported them through their recovery that they might be struggling with it. The fear of being perceived as weak leads to additional stress and secrecy. While there should be no shame in asking for help – many people do feel ashamed and are very reluctant to begin a necessary conversation.