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Profile of the chronic relapse

Taking mini-vacations in between using is the definitive definition of a chronic drug and alcoholic relapser.  My ex-husband is one and “keep coming back” was the constant revolving door into ER’s, psych wards, detox, recovery and transitional housing programs, returning home for the “shame” period and then we are off and running on his next binge, within days or a week. “One is never enough” for him and ‘a thousand” is more in line with his addiction to drugs, alcohol and degradation.  “I’m so sorry” is the quote of the day and “I will never do this again” is a pipe dream.


Add to the mix that he has been playing these “poor me, poor me, pour me another drink” and “hit me with your best shot” for over 40 years (starting at age 12) with family, friends, spouses, children and social service and recovery programs (at last count he had been in 21 recovery programs) and the subsequent nightmares from his consequences for all involved. 


Throw in medically and psychiatrically diagnosed sociopath, Anti-social Behavior Disorder, Impulse Control Disorder, Bi-polar and severe social functioning ability and I had my own version of “Nightmare on Elm Street” for four years. Wes Craven’s scripts did not hold the horror or suspense element that being married to a sociopathic drug addict and drunk had on my life.


His 12-step program was the count of the steps he took between the end of my walkway and the door to the front of the house as he banged to let me in after having been out on a week-long binge in drug houses.


His 12-traditions were the same old steps that he took each and every he began the vicious cycle of binging and it became a joke in my house at the end because I had a written checklist of what to do each time he relapsed: call the police, close the debit cards down and report them stolen (no readily access to cash after being hit with $47,000.00 of funds missing from our accounts for drugs), buy my car back from a dope dealer, pay off the “loans” that dope dealers made him, etc.  It’s just the family tradition!


Living with a chronic relapser is equivalent of “walking through the valley of death” on a rollercoaster that never stops:  hitting rock bottom was the solid foundation of rebuilding my life and it was not about quitting, it was about knowing when I had had enough.



Who are Chronic Relapsers?

Numerous failed attempts at sobriety, or a return to drugs/alcohol after a substantial period of sobriety. While this is a simple and obvious criterion of a chronic relapser, the distinction of an individual who has attempted sobriety and failed is important. Many addicts have a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse but have never actually attempted to get sober. What makes chronic relapsers distinct is that they have tried and failed.

Unable to maintain sobriety despite having a wealth of knowledge about addiction and recovery. Often, chronic relapsers know enough about the disease concept, the 12 Steps, relapse triggers, the neurological impact of drugs, and family roles to teach classes on substance abuse at a treatment center. However, they have no experience in applying this knowledge to their lives in a way that creates lasting sobriety. Their wealth of knowledge is something that chronic relapsers will often use as a weapon when loved ones attempt to intervene.

Continued substance use despite significant, severe and repeated consequences. This is the baffling and insane feature of addiction in general, but particularly with chronic relapsers. Despite loss of children, loss of family, homelessness, seizures, heart attacks, diseases, prostitution, incarceration and overdose, chronic relapsers continue to drink and use drugs. While they may have an intense and honest desire to stop using, they are powerless to make that choice.

Chronic relapsers often feel hopeless that they will ever find lasting sobriety. Addicts in their first attempt at sobriety, whether in treatment or a 12-Step program, often possess great hope and excitement about a new life. With chronic relapsers, however, there is frequently an intense hopelessness and a cynical outlook on any possibility of permanent sobriety. Based on their life history, chronic relapsers are convinced they are beyond repair and most are.

Multiple treatment episodes, including psychiatric treatment, detox, residential, outpatient, and halfway houses. This often includes relapse just hours, days or weeks after getting out of treatment. Chronic relapsers also have a significant history of using in treatment, getting kicked out of treatment, and leaving treatment early.

Significant exposure, attendance and/or participation in 12-Step programs. Chronic relapsers have a history of repeatedly working Steps 1, 2 and 3, but have never completed all 12. They have picked up numerous “desire chips.” They have attended countless meetings. They even may have had sponsors. Unfortunately, they many times have just enough experience with the 12-Step fellowship to think they know it won't work for them. However, the majority of chronic relapsers have never had a deep and meaningful experience through working all of the Steps in the way they are intended.

Treatment savvy-have learned to navigate their way through the treatment industry to meet their own agenda. Chronic relapsers often know how to get around treatment center rules and to play the treatment center game. They have been in and out of institutions and can easily figure out what they need to do to graduate successfully and appease others. Chronic relapsers also have a gift for splitting staff, influencing peers and becoming a virus in a treatment community. Many times they have mastered the art of working the therapists. They have learned to feign trauma, trump therapeutic issues and play up their dual diagnosis symptoms.

A unique talent to exhaust the financial resources and emotional support of loved ones. Chronic relapsers leave their loved ones depleted of energy and emotional resources. They are often lovable and convincing, which enhances their amazing ability to get their family members and others to continue giving of their resources.

As with most addicts, a pervasive cluster of personality characteristics are frequently exaggerated in the chronic relapser. We have found that they are very charming, intelligent, manipulative, convincing, deceitful, lovable, talented and passionate. These personality traits often are what helped them survive through years of dangerous drug and alcohol abuse and all that comes with that lifestyle. Chronic relapsers have mastered the art of survival, in and out of treatment.

Axis II personality disorders or personality traits. Chronic relapsers are many times diagnosed with or display significant symptoms of Axis II personality disorders, especially borderline personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.


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