What Happens During Relapse-Prevention Training?

The old way of thinking about drug addiction was that once you quit drugs, you would never use again. If you did “relapse” or use again, the belief was that you would immediately fall back into your old drug-using lifestyle.

The new thinking is that the majority of addicts will “fall off the wagon” after completing treatment, but this does not necessarily mean that their drug addiction treatment experience has been a failure. Most former addicts will relapse a few times until they can remain drug-free permanently. Some will get to the point where drugs are no longer a factor in their lives, while others remain in support groups for many years because they still must deal with “triggers” and relapse behaviors.

The theory of triggers is that human beings can be conditioned to respond in a certain way after being exposed to certain stimuli. The Russian professor Ivan Pavlov discovered what he called “conditioned reflexes” by experimenting with dogs. He would ring a bell and then feed laboratory dogs. After a while, simply the sound of the ringing bell or just the sight of the bell would make his dogs salivate in anticipation of food, whether they were hungry or not. The bell became a trigger for the dogs’ behavior.

In terms of drug addiction treatment, triggers are any stimuli that produce drug cravings. Some people will walk by a house and just see an ordinary house. The former drug addict will see that same house and remember how he would go in there and use drugs. Just the sight of the house can cause a craving to use again. Certain people, places, songs, smells, and other stimuli can trigger drug cravings.

During your drug addiction treatment, you will learn what to do when you experience a trigger. Just simply thinking of it as a trigger can be helpful. You can learn avoidance techniques, such as taking a different way home so you do not pass your old drug house. You can learn calming techniques, such as deep breathing or meditating until the craving goes away. You can learn how to replace drug-using behavior with a different pleasure, such as going for a jog or listening to music. Or you can learn how to call upon others, such as your sponsor in your support group, a family member or your therapist, to help you so you do not relapse.

While you are in your drug addiction treatment program, you will address relapse training in a variety of settings. You may have a class or workshop about it, or you may talk about it in individual and group therapy. Learning to deal with triggers and avoid relapses, and learning how to respond if you do relapse, are vital components of your recovery from drug addiction.