Early Recovery Group: Relapse Prevention Strategy

The catchphrase “cunning and baffling” is utilized at many twelve step groups and substance abuse treatment programs to describe the cognitive rationalizations that often lead addicts back to relapse.  The disease of addiction can lie dormant for months and/or years, but when presented with an opportunity to strike someone at risk for relapse, rationalization can be as quick as a rattlesnake.

The secondary drug of choice is a pattern that raises a red flag.  Some examples include the following:

  • The recovering heroin addict who starts smoking marijuana "on occasion"
  • The cocaine addict who goes out to a bar drinking beers with friend and finds a coke dealer
  • The prescription medication addict who returns to drinking wine with dinner (a glass of wine quickly became a bottle of wine at the meals)
  • The crystal meth addict who continues to use poppers during sex

Clients recalling the beginnings of their relapse histories often recognize that the road back to their primary drug of choice began with use of a secondary drug.  If one’s mind focuses only on avoiding the source of the primary addiction, that person is at risk for rationalizing use of another alternative.  Someone with a diagnosis of chemical dependency must refrain from all mood altering chemicals, not just the primary drug of choice associated with the addiction diagnosis. 

Confronting the grief associated with letting go of the belief that one can never engage in “social drinking” or “recreational use” remains a critical component of relapse prevention for clients diagnosed with chemical dependency.  Comprehension of this concept is critical to achieving long-term sobriety, let alone lifetime happiness.