Drinking resumption: problematic alcohol use relapse after rehabilitation. A phenomenological hermeneutical perspective

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The majority of patients being treated for alcohol abuse disorders experience one or more relapses after treatment. The fact that people use this inebriant in a way leading to so much harm and suffering might seem a conundrum. Therapists, family and others might find the person's relapse to be dramatic and upsetting, and one might question whether the person has the sufficient will or motivation to change. However, few previous studies have explored relapse from the patient's perspective. The aim of this study was to illuminate the patient's lived experience of relapse and to develop a deeper understanding of this phenomenon. The study consisted of qualitative interviews using a phenomenological hermeneutical approach. Three main themes emerged from the analyses: ‘craving’, ‘self-image’ and ‘time’. The findings were discussed in the context of phenomenological literature. Cravings could occur unpredictably; nevertheless, craving was a common experience for the patients and signified a risk of relapse. Bodily experiences of craving were frequently mentioned, and alcohol addiction could be understood as to be a disease or a learned habit. Self-image was, at times, adversely affected by relapse episodes. Therefore, feelings of shame, self-respect and recognition were significant concepts. This study found that the perception of time as past, present and future greatly influenced the participants' experiences of relapse and rehabilitation. Thus, relapse was an upsetting and dramatic experience that could cause great discomfort and sometimes life-threatening situations. However, relapse could also be viewed as a planned event. This study highlights important truth and reality about alcoholism and relapse grounded in people's lived experience.

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