Drug and Alcohol Relapse: Three Stages – For many people in recovery, relapse is part of the process. In fact, according to DrugAbuse.gov, about half of addicts relapse at least once after choosing to abstain from drugs or alcohol.
If a person relapses, this doesn’t necessarily indicate a failed recovery. Many consider relapse as a learning experience and are better able to identify triggers and know what to avoid the next time around. Although relapse is frequently unintentional and impulsive, there are definite warning signs that foretell when a relapse is imminent.
Three Stages of Relapse
Relapse is believed to consist of three distinct stages – emotional, mental and physical.
During this stage, the person is not actively thinking about using drugs or drinking alcohol. Their behavior and actions, however, may be setting them up to travel down that path.
Emotional relapse can be identified by symptoms such as anxiety, anger, defensiveness, moodiness, isolation, failure to attend arranged meetings, and poor eating and sleeping habits.
It is thought that this stage of relapse is a precursor to post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), a phase during which an addict encounters emotional and psychological withdrawals rather than merely physical ones.
Moreover, physical withdrawals only continue for a couple of weeks, whereas PAWS can persist up to two years after an addict stops using.
During this stage, the brain is vacillating between using and not using substances. Part of the addict wants to use, while the other part wants to continue with their recovery.
Signs of mental drug or alcohol relapse often include reminiscing about people and places associated with a past life, romanticizing prior use, being deceptive, hanging out with people who use, thinking about relapse and even preparing for one.
Often, the person in recovery is the only one who can identify these symptoms of mental relapse as internal struggles are much more difficult for others to recognize.
Methods to Prevent Mental Relapse
When the process of mental drug or alcohol relapse starts, there are some ways in which an addict can regain control of their thoughts and feelings and make the choice to avoid relapse.
1. Call someone – a sponsor, friend, or family member.
Communicating the presence of urges to another person can help to identify reasons for the desire to use and why one ought not. Talking feelings through with another person can make them less daunting, as well as help one be rational and analyze reasons for wanting to use. Being able to talk to someone about urges can promote clarity as to why using will not solve problems and only produce more.
2. Wait 30 minutes.
Before hastily acting on an urge to use, one should wait half an hour and reevaluate the urges and the reasoning behind them. Cravings usually don’t last longer than this, and sometimes the passing of time can help clear things up.
3. Consider what would happen to have one drink or use once.
It is unlikely that it would stop there, and an addict who takes this step will eventually find him or herself at the same rock-bottom as before. Thinking about actions and consequences can reduce the desire to use.
4. Don’t think about every day – think about today.
Even those who have been in recovery for decades manage their sobriety one day at a time. Thinking about abstinence regarding years or indefinitely is usually too intimidating for anyone, and will likely result in feeling overwhelmed and awaken the desire to use.
Instead of thinking about forever, concentrate on making it through each day without using. Then, focus on that again the following day, and repeat. The days eventually begin to add up.
Unfortunately, the techniques in stage two are not useful for everyone, and some people resort to acting on their urges to use. This stage of relapse includes the actual decision to use.
When an addict enters this stage of relapse, some will continue to use for weeks or months, but others recognize the gravity of what they’ve done and once again begin to focus on recovery.
After relapse, there are specific steps that one can take to get back on the right track.
What to Do in Case of Physical Relapse
1. Spend time with appropriate people who do not use and support your sobriety.
Rather than continuing to hang out with friends who use, call a sponsor or sober friend and make plans. If you feel comfortable, discuss the reasons for your relapse and figure out what you can do differently in the future to prevent the same thing from happening again.
2. Let yourself experience your emotions and identify where they are originating.
Relapse is often the product of emotions such as guilt, shame, and frustration, which are not enjoyable but sometimes need to be felt and processed.
Continuing to ignore your feelings will likely result in using again, so it is essential to allow yourself to feel and to validate those feelings. Crying or asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it’s a bold move if you care about your sobriety.
3. Don’t isolate yourself.
Although engaging with people who don’t always understand what you’re going through may be the last thing you want, make plans anyway. Spending too much time alone can result in feelings of isolation, which may further lead to another relapse.
Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction
If you have experienced a drug or alcohol relapse during recovery, it’s never too late to try again. Our center offers evidence-based therapeutic services that are delivered by caring addiction professionals.
We provide clients with the tools they need to attain abstinence, avoid relapse, and enjoy long-lasting sobriety and wellness.
We can help you reclaim the life and happiness you deserve! Call us today to find out how!
Related: What Is a 12-Step Program?