Relapse prevention is an important element of drug treatment, with rehab clinics implementing a number of programs and strategies to reduce the chance of recurrent drug abuse among patients. Recovery aftercare can be managed in many ways, with some treatment modalities integrating it into existing therapy programs and others initiating specific relapse prevention programs.
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While detox and medication treatment is the backbone of any successful rehabilitation program, ongoing therapy and aftercare treatment is just as important to avoid recurrent drug abuse from taking place.
In the context of drug and alcohol treatment, relapse describes a situation where a patient re-engages with substances of abuse following a treatment regime. Recovery aftercare is critical to drug treatment, because it reduces the chance of recurrent drug abuse and increases the chance of recovery.
Recovery aftercare measures use a range of pharmacotherapy and cognitive behavioral techniques, with different programs designed to meet the needs of patients and give them the support and skills needed for a full recovery.
Pharmacotherapy involves the administration of medications to stabilize an addicted user, reduce drug use, and prevent recurrent drug abuse. Because drug addiction is a learned behavior that actually changes the structure of the brain, it is often necessary to introduce medications in order to normalize desired long-term changes.
Opioid replacement therapy is a related form of therapy that attempts to manage recovery through the administration of opiate drugs. For example, long-term heroin users may be given methadone, with this medication reducing the chance of recurrent drug abuse while also helping patients to be safer and more productive.
A number of cognitive behavioral techniques are useful as relapse prevention measures, with this approach focusing on the precursors and consequences of drug taking action. Pavlovian conditioning and operant conditioning are both useful in this context, with therapists using positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement to teach patients how to change the thoughts and emotions associated with drug taking behaviors. Practical coping mechanisms may be taught as part of this treatment, with general mindfulness strategies also used.
Some theorists have borrowed ideas from systems theory to shed new light on the underlying reasons for recurrent drug abuse. According to Katie Witkiewitz and G. Alan Marlatt, recurrent drug abuse can be seen as a multidimensional system involving a number of feedback loops and interplay between tonic and phasic processes.
While this model is very abstract by nature, Rami Jumnoodoo and Dr. Patrick Coyne from the UK have been working with National Health Service users to transfer relapse prevention systems theory into a workable area of adult mental health. By approaching recurrent drug abuse as a complex system with a range of nonlinear dynamics, therapists can find new ways to reduce recurrent drug abuse rates among the drug and alcohol dependent population.
In order to effectively reduce recurrent drug abuse rates, medical professionals need to be aware of the different stages of relapse and how each stage feeds of preceding stages.