The Stages of Relapse

The stages of relapse. Relapse is a natural process of recovery. Usually one does not occur without the other. One of the most difficult parts of recovery is preventing relapse. To understand relapse prevention, it is important to first understand the stages of relapse. The relapse process has multiple stages that eventually lead up to the physical relapse; the actual use of the addicted substance. This process begins with thoughts and emotions that are initiated weeks or even months before the stage of physical relapse. It is crucial to recognize signs of each stage of the relapse process and to develop tools and techniques that can aid in the prevention for each of these stages. There are three stages of relapse.

  • Emotional relapse
  • Mental relapse
  • Physical relapse

Emotional Relapse

In emotional relapse, you’re not specifically thinking about using. however your emotions and behaviors are setting you up for a possible relapse in the future. Often times, many people do not even recognize these emotions or behaviors.

The signs of emotional relapse are:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Intolerance
  3. Anger
  4. Defensiveness
  5. Mood swings
  6. Isolation
  7. Not asking for help
  8. Not going to meetings
  9. Poor eating habits
  10. Poor sleep habits

The signs of emotional relapse are also the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal.Post-acute withdrawal occurs after the acute physical stage of withdrawal and can last for up to two years. During this stage a rollercoaster of fluctuating emotions occurs because the brain chemistry is in flux and is gradually returning to normal. Recognizing this stage and the accompanying symptoms can help prevent moving into the further stages of relapse.

Early relapse prevention

Relapse prevention at this stage means recognizing that you’re in emotional relapse and changing your behavior. It is necessary to “check in” with your emotions and be cognizant if you are getting off track. Contact your sponsor, a friend, a therapist or your alumni coordinator at Sovereign Health Group in order to get advice on how to overcome these thoughts and emotions in this phase. Remember to practice self-care and relaxation techniques to calm the mind and heart. Self-care includes exercising, eating healthy, rewarding yourself with your favorite things, and spending time enjoying your hobbies and loved ones. Neglecting yourself can lead to stress, depression, resentment, anger and can lead you into the next stage of relapse; which is one step closer to using again.

Mental Relapse

In mental relapse a war is going on in your mind. Thoughts of using are now becoming a part of your daily routine and not only are your emotions swirling out of control but it now becomes difficult to control your thoughts. Part of you wants to use, but part of you doesn’t. In the early phase of mental relapse you’re just idly thinking about using. But in the latter part of this phase you’re definitely thinking about using.

The signs of mental relapse are:

  1. Thinking about people, places and things involved with your substance use
  2. Glamorizing your past use
  3. Lying
  4. Hanging out with old friends who use
  5. Fantasizing about using
  6. Thinking about relapsing
  7. Planning your relapse around other people’s schedules

It gets harder to make the right choices as the pull of addiction gets stronger.

Techniques for dealing with mental urges

Tell someone that you’re having urges to use Call a friend, a sponsor or someone in recovery. Share with that person what you’re going through. The magic of sharing is that the minute you start to talk about what you’re thinking and feeling, your urges begin to disappear. They don’t seem quite as big, and you don’t feel as alone.

Distract yourself. When you think about using, do something to occupy yourself. Call a friend. Go to a meeting. Get up and go for a walk. If you just sit there with your urge and don’t do anything, you’re giving your mental relapse room to grow.

Wait for 30 minutes. Most urges usually last for less than 15 to 30 minutes. When you’re in an urge, it feels like an eternity. But if you can keep yourself busy and do the things you’re supposed to do, the urge quickly goes away.

Do your recovery one day at a time. Don’t think about whether you can stay abstinent forever. That’s a paralyzing thought. It’s overwhelming even for people who have been in recovery for a long time.

One day at a time means you should match your goals to your emotional strength. When you feel strong and you’re motivated to avoid using, tell yourself that you won’t use for the next week or the next month. But when you’re struggling and having lots of urges, and those times will happen often, tell yourself that you won’t use for today or for the next 30 minutes. Do your recovery in bite-sized chunks and don’t sabotage yourself by thinking too far ahead.

Physical relapse

Physical relapse is the last phase of relapse where you actually take actions to obtain the abused substance. All the emotional and mental anguish, if not treated, can lead you to drive to the liquor store or contact your dealer. It is crucial that you do not get to this point but if you do then you need to seek out a recovery treatment center as soon as possible in order to get back on track. The goal of learning about the stages of relapse is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of each stage so you can prevent using.