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Understanding Addiction: Relapse


Getting wrapped up in using drugs and alcohol is an easy way to be a part of a staggering statistic.

In 2011, 20.6 million people twelve years old and older were classified with alcohol or illicit drug dependence or abuse, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Survey.

Recovering from addiction can be even harder, especially when relapse is likely to happen.

When Donna Brown drank her first beer at the age of eight, used drugs in her teens, and after years of foster care, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, she knew she had a long road of addiction ahead of her.

Today, Brown said she sees a road to recovery, but it's not smooth sailing. She said it takes careful planning every day, so that she can tackle one of the hardest bumps that can throw any addict’s recovery off: relapse.

"Life has lessons to teach,” Brown read from a book. “We can remember them and share them with others, but we can forget them and have to learn them again.”

Brown is two and a half years sober and clean, but rewind a couple years ago, and she met her moment to change.

"I woke up in Marathon County Jail … again,” Brown said. “I was arrested for my sixth offence OWI. I was facing two years in prison.”

The first time she ever set foot in an Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting was when she was 13 years old, however, 38 years later, she finally hit rock bottom, and she knew something had to give.

"I dropped to my knees, and I said, ‘God? What have I done?’ and ‘God, please help me,’" Brown said.

Brown said she's relapsed more than she can count in her life.

"I've tried it all. I've been in and out of treatments. I've been clean and sober before, why wasn't it sticking?” Brown said. “What is wrong? What is wrong with me?”

For any addict or family coping with someone with the disease of addiction, Karen Klos, a substance abuse counselor, said relapsing is common.

"They say the majority of people who go into recovery will relapse at least one time,” Klos said.

Klos also said relapse begins way before an addict even takes a sip of anything or uses.

“It’s when your attitude starts to slip. You don't go to self-help meetings. You quit going to your counselor,” Klos said. “You're making up reasons not to go. You're starting to get an attitude with you're family.”

Without triggers, Klos said recovery can stay clear of relapse but everyone is different.

For many people, recovery is a unique journey. It emerges from hope, is person-driven, occurs via many pathways, it’s supported by peers, allies and relationships, involves individual, community and family strength and responsibilities and it's based on respect, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Services survey said.

"Life is not easy. Life is still life,” Brown said. “I have a lot of struggles, but at least one of my options is that I don't have to pick up a drink or drug."

Brown said it was herself who caused her to relapse, but it's herself who keeps her from having to re-learn again.

"You’ve got to find it in yourself to love yourself,” Brown said.

Brown said she was the second one in Marathon County's new OWI court that was started in January, and she was the first one to graduate from it.

She now is taking online classes for a business administration degree, and she keeps a 4.0 GPA.

Brown said it's possible to come back from an addiction. It’s also even more of an option to dodge relapsing in recovery, just as long as you or your family is understanding the full story behind addiction.

If you need help or know someone dealing with addiction, call the North Central Health Care Emergency & Crisis Care line at 715-845-4326 or 1-800-799-0122.

The Emergency & Crisis Care is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

The Crisis Center is located at 1100 Lake View Drive, Wausau.

NewsChannel 7’s September Series “Understanding Addiction” was made possible with the Marathon County Alcohol and Other Drug Partnership for National Recovery Month to shed light on addiction in our community.


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