Relapse is a very real and ongoing concern for those in recovery. Relapse is often seen as a single event, the act of using or drinking once again. This is commonly known in recovery circles as “physical relapse.” However, relapse is actually a process that contains many stages. By addressing relapse in its earliest stages, you are more likely to prevent physical relapse and maintain your new life of sobriety.
Stages of Relapse
The events leading up to a physical relapse may be weeks, or even months, in the making. The three stages of relapse are:
Although you are not actively thinking about using at this time, your emotional state could be leading up to those thoughts and urges in the future. Common symptoms of emotional relapse include:
- Anger and intolerance
- Unhealthy reactions to stress
- Poor judgement or loss of control
- Disturbed sleep or poor eating
- Isolation from others
If emotional relapse is left unaddressed, it can lead to mental relapse. This stage includes:
- Thinking the people and places involved with previous using
- Glamorizing or being nostalgic over the using period
- Figuring out how to use so family and friends won’t know
- Hanging out with the people who used with you
When relapse arrives at the mental stage, occasional thoughts about using will gradually become a steady stream. At this point, it is much more difficult to turn away completely and prevent physical relapse from occurring.
This is the point where the person in recovery uses the drug or alcohol. Recovery reaches an abrupt halt and must begin all over again. It is much easier to avoid relapse during the emotional stage, than to try to recover from the physical relapse after it has occurred.
Preventing relapse in the early stages requires you to know how to identify the triggers that could lead you to use over time. When you know your trigger, you can take healthy steps to avoid them. While triggers vary somewhat from person to person, some of the most common triggers include:
- Overconfidence that takes the focus off of the recovery process
- Unrealistic expectations of recovery that can lead to disappointment and defeat
- Self-pity or depression that take much of the satisfaction out of the recovery process
- Lack of self-care that can leave you tired, hungry and less able to cope with urges
- Isolation from others, rather than seeking out support from a sponsor or group members
Recovery is something you must focus on every day to prevent a physical relapse and remain on the healthy road to sober living. There is no place for complacency in the recovery process. Instead work on developing habits that will help you stay on track:
- Attend 12-step meetings regularly
- Continue with counseling or group therapy sessions
- Maintain daily self-care, including exercise, healthy eating and sufficient sleep
- Find effective relaxation techniques and use them regularly to manage stress
- Develop hobbies you enjoy that will fill the time you used to spend using
- Write about your recovery progress so you have something to turn to when cravings strike
- Remain honest with family, friends and your sponsor to prevent opportunities to use
The good news is that after about four years of sobriety, your risk for relapse becomes considerably lower. To learn more about preventing relapse or get the addiction support you need, contact West Coast Recovery Centers at 442-333-6199.