The Tail of the Raccoon, Part III: Departures – Educational and Scientific Commentary

When it becomes clear that Lepus is facing the inevitable downward slide into the life of the chronically relapsing drug addict, Lepus must move away from all contact with the cues associated with the drug. This is necessary because Lepus is powerless to control his actions when he is in the presence of the people, places, and things that were present during his episodes of drug-taking. The lesson of the story is that because Lepus is a Sign-Tracker, in order to get a fresh start, in order to recover the hope of living a drug-free life, Lepus must leave everything behind. His best chance of full recovery will be away from his homeland. Lepus must leave the Great Forest, the shores of the Great Lake, even his friends and family, to move to an unknown land and build a new life in a strange place, away from all that is familiar in his beautiful homeland. While there is certainly some concern for the future of young Lepus, as he leaves his old life behind and isolates himself from all sources of temptation, the story ends on the hopeful note of recovery.

Relapse: Drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder (Leshner, 1997) that causes uncontrolled drug-taking despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and those around him or her (NIDA, 2012). Although the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, repeated acts of drug-taking produce changes in the brain (Nestler and Malenka, 2004) that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs (Tomie and Zito, 2014).

How often do addicts relapse? It is difficult to get an accurate assessment of relapse rates because of the high rates of attrition in addiction treatment programs. The estimated one-year relapse rates for alcohol, nicotine, and heroin are remarkably similar, and consistently indicate that approximately 90% of addicts relapse during the first year. For example, a 1990 summary of five member surveys conducted by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) from 1977 to 1989 reported that 81% of alcoholics who engaged in the program stopped attending within the first year, and only 5% of the AA attendees surveyed had been attending meetings for more than a year (Craig, 1990). Of AA members who did not drop out during their first year, over 75% relapsed during that year (Voss, 2009).