Déjà Vu All Over Again

Leo (not his real name) walked into our outpatient clinic with a daypack over his right shoulder smelling strongly of booze. He would later show us the half-empty bottle of vodka he carried inside of it. Three of the treatment staff did an impromptu “intervention” and at one point he almost gave us the bottle. Sadly the vodka was more alluring to him at the time. He kept the bottle.

We knew and liked Leo. He had been in our partial treatment program at least 2 or 3 times before. He demonstrated personal change; helped others with their own drug and alcohol use problems; and usually completed the treatment program. But he repeatedly lapsed or relapsed into active drinking.

He wasn’t angry or belligerent. He didn’t even get upset when we told him if he walked out of the office we would call the local police. He just quietly got up and left—with his daypack. I followed him outside and watched him walk away. The last time I saw him that day he was fifty yards away; slinging his daypack off of his back as he disappeared behind some trees.

Sarah (not her real name) had completed her third or fourth outpatient treatment few months after she turned twenty. This time she had a very good sponsor; had several other women with solid recovery in her sober support system; and seemed to really be trying to remain abstinent. Then we heard that she had announced to everyone that she intended to celebrate her 21st birthday with a pub-crawl. Several people tried to talk her out of this crazy idea, but she wasn’t budging.

I got permission to hold a birthday party for her at the aftercare group I oversee. And then I invited Sarah and anyone in her sober support system that wanted to come. We had a quarter-sized sheet cake and ice cream. Sarah didn’t come, but I saved her a piece of cake and put it in my freezer. About a month later on her birthday, she went on a pub-crawl with her friend. The friend ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. Sarah kept drinking and using drugs for another six or seven months.

When she came back to the Aftercare group, I told her I had a piece of birthday cake for her in my freezer.  When she achieved one year of abstinence, I’d give her the birthday cake. She returned after her one-year anniversary and I gave her the piece of cake. I haven’t heard from her for a few years, but the last news I had was that she was still sober.

Relapse into active drug or alcohol use is, sadly, a common occurrence in recovery. But it doesn’t always have to be. Like the new Tom Cruise science fiction movie, “Edge of Tomorrow,” persistence and repeated battle against addiction can be an opportunity to eventually overcoming this personalized alien invader. But if it’s addiction and not the Mimics that you battle, I suggest you trust in Terence Gorski and not Tom Cruise for your deliverance.

Among the many tools developed by Gorski for this battle is the AWARE (Advance WArning of RElapse) Questionnaire.  It was designed and refined as a measure of the warning signs of relapse. It is simple to use and interpret: the higher the score, the greater the number of relapse warning signs being reported. It was developed through research funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). So it is in the public domain and may be used without specific permission; so long as the proper recognition is given as to its source.  You can read Gorski’s original blog post on the AWARE Questionnaire. And you can download a printer-friendly version of it that I’ve put together here.

Does the frequency of relapse among alcoholics and addicts suggest there is a flaw in abstinence-based treatment and self-help groups?

I have read and used Terence Gorski’s material on relapse and recovery for most of my career as an addictions counselor. I’ve read several of his books and booklets; and I’ve completed many of his online training courses. He has a blog, Terry Gorski’s blog, where he graciously shares much of what he has learned, researched and written over the years. This is one of a series of blog posts based upon the material available on his blog and website.