A program's approach to relapse sets the entire tone | Addiction Professional Magazine Skip to content Skip to navigation

A program's approach to relapse sets the entire tone

February 22, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An addiction treatment program dictated by a philosophy that defines a patient setback as a failure rather than a learning opportunity is ultimately not working toward strengthening recovery, argues the CEO of Sovereign Health Group.

Correctly addressing relapse starts with a strong treatment philosophy rooted in recovery management, not episodic care, Tonmoy Sharma tells Addiction Professional. “If we don't get that right, everything downstream is going to be wrong,” says Sharma, whose organization operates addiction treatment facilities in California, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Utah.

He says the field's traditional notion of relapse has been characterized by feelings of guilt and shame. In fact, some might argue that use of the term ”relapse” in and of itself reinforces stigma. Sharma says Sovereign has had discussions about how best to convey a patient setback through language.

He uses these talking points to emphasize the teaching opportunity to which a setback can give rise:

  • If a program looks at a relapse as simply a brief lapse in judgment, that can help convey to the patient that a short-term loss does not disqualify him/her from long-term success.

  • Analyzing the circumstances that led to the relapse, whether related to emotions, locations, or individuals in their lives, can help patients better manage similar scenarios in the future.

  • Patients should develop, with the assistance of their clinicians, a coping plan for avoiding or counteracting negative situations. Sharma says this can be introduced a couple of weeks before discharge for first-time patients, and right away for those who have returned to treatment. In order to make this work for patients, “They need to feel a connection,” says Sharma. “It makes the clinician more like a partner.”

Sharma also believes it is important to educate patients about the biological underpinnings of relapse, so that they realize that the contributors to relapse are a combination of factors both within and outside of their control.

“Failure is an event—it's not a person,” Sharma says.