The Stages of Relapse

Relapse is very common among recovering addicts. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of addicts relapse at least once during recovery. Being sure to know the signs of relapse is crucial in preventing it. Acknowledging that there are both thoughts and behvaiour patterns that lead to relapse and implementing necessary coping strategies should be an essential part of your relapse prevention plan. 

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a relapse often occurs in three stages: emotional, mental, physical. Recognizing when these stages are taking place and intervening is imperative in remaining sober. This blog will outline the three stages of relapse to help you better prevent relapse.

The Three Stages of Relapse

Stage 1: Emotional Relapse

The first stage of relapse is emotional. During this stage, you are not actively thinking about using drugs and/or alcohol, however, your emotions are setting you up to do so. Denial plays an important role in this stage because you are not consciously thinking about use, but your emotions are subconsciously doing so. Signs of emotional relapse to look out for are:

  • Isolation
  • If you are attending meetings, you are not present or engaged
  • Not attending therapy/meetings
  • Focusing on other people’s problems instead of your own
  • Suppressing emotions
  • Having problems eating and/or sleeping

Emotional relapse often comes about due to poor self-care. Thus, it is crucial that during this stage you engage in self-care both psychological and physical self-care practices. Psychological self-care emphasizes the importance of connecting with both yourself and others and finding enjoyable activities to do that do not involve using. Practicing kindness towards yourself and consistently checking in on your emotions is incredibly important during this time as well. Moreover, incorporating some physical improvements, such as eating better, trying to improve your sleep hygiene, working out, and more, can be advantageous in avoiding relapse at this stage.

In order to avoid moving on to the second stage of relapse, you must accept the feelings you are having and acknowledge that these emotions may lead to use. Reach out to your support network and take proactive steps to cope with these feelings in an effort to prevent relapse. If emotional triggers are not dealt with, you will almost certainly move onto the next stage of relapse, mental relapse.

Stage 2: Mental Relapse

The emotional stage of relapse can lead to mental relapse once you begin to feel uncomfortable with yourself. The unpleasant feelings associated with emotional relapse often lead to irritability, discontent, and restlessness. This leads to the mental relapse stage which is characterized by a battle within your mind: should I use or should I stay sober? Mental relapse is when the addict begins to consciously consider using or if they want to continue their recovery. Resisting relapse at this stage is much more difficult than resisting it in the emotional stage. Some signs of mental relapse are:

  • Minimizing past use and consequences associated with it
  • Reminiscing about past substance use
  • Glamorizing past use
  • Craving drugs and/or alcohol
  • Lying or bargaining
  • Seeking an opportunity to relapse
  • Thinking of ways that you could control your use
  • Planning to relapse

The most common sign of mental relapse is bargaining. This means that you may be looking for an excuse to use or trying to justify why using won’t be that bad. You also may be trying to convince yourself that you will be able to control your use if you do relapse. It is imperative that you recognize these signs so that you can work to cope with them.

One way you can deal with emotional relapse is to play the tape. This means imagining the consequences of what will happen if you use. Another way to cope is to reach out to a peer. Expressing your feelings and struggles with someone you trust can make the mental battle feel a little less lonely and overwhelming. You could also simply try to wait 30 minutes, as most cravings last for about 15 to 30 minutes. By acknowledging that you are experiencing mental relapse and taking the necessary steps to prevent progressing to the next stage, you can avoid relapse.

Stage 3: Physical Relapse

This is the stage in which you begin to use again. In this stage, you will be hyper-focused on your use and will neglect to acknowledge the negative consequences associated with your use. Although the use at this stage may just be a slip-up, it can quickly turn into a full-blown relapse if no dealt with.

Once you use, the best way to avoid continuing to use is to tell someone. Hold yourself accountable and call a friend, family member, sponsor, or someone else you trust who can help you stop your use. It may be difficult to do this because many people view relapsing as shameful, however, this is not the case. The most important part of a relapse is recognizing you messed up and getting help. Re-commit to your recovery and use this slip-up as a learning experience to better avoid relapse next time cravings hit. 

Avoiding Relapse with Design for Recovery

If you are struggling to stay sober and prevent relapse, Design for Recovery may be able to help. Design for Recovery is a sober living home for men located in West Los Angeles. Design for Recovery offers a structured, safe environment to become more secure in your sobriety. Residents work hard daily to develop new skills, values, and coping mechanisms for approaching life in early recovery. During this process, residents develop close friendships with their peers and become connected with the Los Angeles recovery community. At Design for Recovery, you can learn to recognize the warning signs of relapse, cope with these signs, and stay sober long-term.

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