McCrady  conducted a comprehensive review of 62 alcohol treatment outcome studies comprising 13 psychosocial approaches. Two approaches–RP and brief intervention–qualified as empirically validated treatments based on established criteria. Interestingly, Miller and Wilbourne’s  review of clinical trials, which evaluated the efficacy of 46 different alcohol treatments, ranked “relapse prevention” as 35th out of 46 treatments based on methodological quality and treatment effect sizes. However, many of the treatments ranked in the top 10 (including brief interventions, social skills training, community reinforcement, behavior contracting, behavioral marital therapy, and self-monitoring) incorporate RP components. These two reviews highlighted the increasing difficulty of classifying interventions as specifically constituting RP, given that many treatments for substance use disorders (e.g., cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT)) are based on the cognitive behavioral model of relapse developed for RP .
In contrast, several models of relapse that are based on social-cognitive or behavioral theories emphasize relapse as a transitional process, a series of events that unfold over time (Annis 1986; Litman et al. 1979; Marlatt and Gordon 1985). According to these models, the relapse process begins prior to the first posttreatment alcohol use and continues after the initial use. This conceptualization provides a broader conceptual framework for intervening in the relapse process to prevent or reduce relapse episodes and thereby improve treatment outcome. The current review highlights a notable gap in research empirically evaluating the effectiveness of nonabstinence approaches for DUD treatment. While multiple harm reduction-focused treatments for AUD have strong empirical support, there is very little research testing models of nonabstinence treatment for drug use. Despite compatibility with harm reduction in established SUD treatment models such as MI and RP, there is a dearth of evidence testing these as standalone treatments for helping patients achieve nonabstinence goals; this is especially true regarding DUD (vs. AUD).
Models of nonabstinence psychosocial treatment for SUD
Mutual support groups are usually structured so that each member has at least one experienced person to call on in an emergency, someone who has also undergone a relapse and knows exactly how to help. What’s more, attending or resuming group meetings immediately after a lapse or relapse and discussing the circumstances can yield good advice on how to continue recovery without succumbing to the counterproductive feelings of shame and self-pity. The longer someone neglects self-care, the more that inner tension builds to the point of discomfort and discontent. This stage is characterized by a tug of war between past habits and the desire to change. Thinking about and romanticizing past drug use, hanging out with old friends, lying, and thoughts about relapse are danger signs. Individuals may be bargaining with themselves about when to use, imagining that they can do so in a controlled way.
In the absence of an emergency plan for just such situations, or a new life with routines to jump into, or a strong social network to call upon, or enhanced coping skills, use looms as attractive. Alternatively, a person might encounter some life difficulties that make memories of drug use particularly alluring. There is less research examining the extent to which moderation/controlled use goals are feasible for individuals with DUDs. The most recent national abstinence violation effect survey assessing rates of illicit drug use and SUDs found that among individuals who report illicit drug use in the past year, approximately 15% meet criteria for one or more DUD (SAMHSA, 2019a). About 10% of individuals who report cannabis use in the past year meet criteria for a cannabis use disorder, while this proportion increases to 18%, 19%, 58%, and 65% of those with past year use of cocaine, opioids (misuse), methamphetamine, and heroin, respectively.
Theoretical and empirical rationale for nonabstinence treatment
One study found that the Asp40 allele predicted cue-elicited craving among individuals low in baseline craving but not those high in initial craving, suggesting that tonic craving could interact with genotype to predict phasic responses to drug cues . The abstinence violation effect (AVE) is a response to relapsing on alcohol, drugs, or other habit-forming substances. You may feel guilt, shame, and other negative emotions as part of the AVE, which can lead to more relapses in the future. Recovering from drug or alcohol use is a complicated process, with setbacks and obstacles. Relapses are a common part of the recovery process, and relapsing is not a sign of personal failure.
- AA was established in 1935 as a nonprofessional mutual aid group for people who desire abstinence from alcohol, and its 12 Steps became integrated in SUD treatment programs in the 1940s and 1950s with the emergence of the Minnesota Model of treatment (White & Kurtz, 2008).
- Changing bad habits of any kind takes time, and thinking about success and failure as all-or-nothing is counterproductive.
- Similarly, twin studies have shown a higher concordance for the eating disorders in monozygotic twins in comparison to dizygotic twins.
- Starting from the point of confronting and recognizing a high-risk situation, Marlatt’s model illustrates that the individual will deal with the situation with either an effective or ineffective coping response.
- How individuals deal with setbacks plays a major role in recovery—and influences the very prospects for full recovery.