In an episode of the Armchair Expert, Dax Shepard revealed his relapse after 16 years of sobriety. Standing by her husband, Kristen Bell, shared on the Ellen Show that her husband is moving forward and doing really great.
“He is actually doing really great. … Everybody is up against their own demons,” Bell tells DeGeneres. “Sometimes it’s anxiety and depression. Sometimes it’s substance abuse,” she says.
It’s clear that support of a loved one is crucial to long-term recovery. This blog explores the details of Dax’s relapse, how common relapse is, the dangers of overuse of pain medication, and how we can help support our loved ones in their journey of recovery.
How Dax Shepard relapsed
Dax revealed in his podcast that he began to struggle in 2012, after a motorcycle accident. Initially he began taking pain killers as prescribed and his wife would administer the pills. Unfortunately, when administering his father’s Percocet he decided to take some of his own, admitting he “probably took twice of what my other prescription was.”
Dax owned up to the relapse with his sponsor and wife and moved on. Then he got hurt again and started self-administering the medication problematically. He explains:
“Maybe I don’t want to take them at night because I can’t sleep when I take them, so when I get my two at night I don’t actually eat them and I keep them for tomorrow morning so I can make it the dose I want to be. I feel shady, but I don’t feel like this is a problem,” he explained.
Unfortunately, his behavior continued to escalate after breaking his hand in an ATV accident and after having another motorcycle accident. He then began buying his own pain medication.
Realizing that he had a problem with the meds, was lying, and feeling immense anxiety about the relapse, Dax tried to stop. He came clean to his wife and podcast co-host releasing a tell-all episode.
Dax isn’t alone. He’s like many people experiencing substance use disorder. The chronic nature of addiction sometimes means that for some people in recovery a return to use is part of the process.
How common is relapse?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), relapse rates for substance use disorder are similar to other chronic illnesses — if a person stops their medical treatment plan it is likely they’ll relapse. NIDA states that 40 to 60 percent of people with substance use disorder will relapse at some point. The rate of relapse depends on the type of drug, too with the rate of relapse as high as 80 percent for those with opioid addiction.
While relapse is part of the recovery process for some, we should highlight that it can be fatal, especially when the person uses more serious drugs (like opiates) because their tolerance will have decreased.
Clinical Director, Steve Carleton, warns that return to use is most often a slow drift back into high risk situations. “Change is such a difficult process and over time there is a natural move back towards old thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” he says.
There are certainly times when unforeseen triggers arise and despite best efforts the pressure to use is overwhelming he warns. The main cause of returning to use is a trigger. “The vast majority of treatment is designed to help people become aware of the people, places, things, experiences, and internal cues that lead to thoughts about using,” says Carleton.
Dangers of pain meds
Dr Patrick Gallus, Chief Medical Officer of Gallus Medical Detox, tells us about the dangers surrounding pain medication, particularly opioids. In that pain medication isn’t necessarily the best option, often exacerbating pain.
“In our experience with patients needing medical detox related to pain issues, their pain often remains the same or worsens as they depend on opiates for primary pain relief.”
“After several days of being off the medication the receptors are allowed to return to a normal state. This return almost always leads to a reduction in pain.”
How to support your family through relapse & treatment
There is no doubt that addressing addiction or relapse with a loved one can cause some anxiety and you may not know what to do. Carefully handled, however, it is possible to help support them get the help they need. In our blog, How to Support a Family Member with Addiction, we provided some top tips that are relevant here.
The most important point is to avoid blaming or shaming a person for relapse. Relapse is a common feature of people’s journey but it doesn’t have to mean they can’t find recovery. We can help support loved ones by knowing common triggers of relapse, key strategies for relapse prevention, and learn lessons for relapses in order to move on.