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The Three Stages of Relapse

The Three Stages of Relapse

One of the greatest fears individuals have after leaving addiction treatment is relapsing. Relapse occurs when a person returns back to the addictive behavior that they were working towards improving. Easier put someone who has gone through addiction treatment and is working on staying sober but slips back into their addiction. Many believe that relapse happens quickly and suddenly, however, it is a slow process that occurs in three stages. 

The three stages of relapse are:

  1. Emotional relapse
  2. Mental relapse
  3. Physical relapse

Many factors go into why someone may relapse. These include stress, triggers, peer pressure, and many more. Understanding the three stages and their warning signs can help prevent someone from relapsing before it occurs. 

Emotional Relapse

The first of the three stages of relapse is emotional relapse. During the emotional relapse stage, the active thought of substance use and cravings have not entered the mind yet. This stage is the beginning of the rise of negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and depression. These feelings and emotions begin to consume the mind, becoming overwhelming. This can cause a person to shut down and abandon any coping mechanisms and strategies learned during treatment. 

When going through an emotional relapse individuals experience an overwhelming sense of fear of judgment or failure. This is why they begin to shut out the world and not talk about the emotions they are feeling. Thus, leading to isolation and the threat of continuing through the next stages of relapse. During treatment, talking about your emotions and learning to open up to a support group is stressed during therapy. This is why group and individual therapy is required for in, as well as outpatient programs. 

When individuals stop taking care of themselves and investing in their recovery it is a telling sign of emotional relapse. These behaviors can include: 

  • Not attending meetings and therapy
  • Abandoning routine
  • Poor hygiene
  • Irregular sleep schedules
  • Isolation
  • Beginning unhealthy habits (binge eating junk foods)

Mental Relapse 

The second of the three stages of relapse is mental relapse. The mental relapse stage is when the thought of using again begins to enter the mind. It can start off slow with just remembering and reminiscing about how the drugs made you feel. These thoughts quickly evolve into thoughts of using again and rationalizing the thought of going back to the substance, but only small, “safe” amounts. Some of these thoughts may sound like”

  • No one will know I’ve relapsed
  • I’ll only use a small amount 
  • If I was able to stop before I can do it again
  • I’ll use a less addictive substance

Although these thoughts are dangerous when pursued, they are expected. The difference between someone actively seeking sobriety and someone giving in to these thoughts is what you do next. Talk to your sponsor or therapist rather than keeping these thoughts to yourself. Stick to your routine and start new hobbies to keep your mind busy. Once you understand how to manage these thoughts and take control of your sobriety it will only continue to set yourself up for success.

Physical Relapse

The final stage of the three stages of relapse is physical relapse. Once you let your mind slip and begin rationalizing using again it quickly transitions into physically using again. This can be anything from reconnecting with a dealer or driving to the liquor store. You are actively trying to acquire the substance of choice which ends in complete relapse. 

Although this stage may seem impossible to come back from, there are ways to interrupt the pattern. If you find yourself talking to individuals you use to abuse or driving by the liquor store each week, reach out to your community. Contact a sponsor or a member of your group and talk about how you are feeling and what you are struggling with. This is why creating a community and relationships with individuals going through what you are experiencing is so important. 

Learn How to Avoid the Three Stages of Relapse

If someone were to tell you they came out of treatment and never thought about using again they are lying. However, there are ways to get you through hard times and low points. The Harm Reduction Center in Boynton Beach, Fl is a private healthcare facility that offers all levels of outpatient care and more. At HARC we stress the importance of aftercare programs following treatment.

These help everyone leaving treatment find their community, stay on track, and build lasting bonds with people who want the same thing as you. A life free of addiction. Contact us today and begin the first steps to taking your life back!