You’re committed to your recovery and staying sober, but there’s always a risk of relapse. Relapse is when someone who has made progress in overcoming addiction returns to substance use. It’s a common challenge in recovery, often due to triggers, stress, or a lapse in coping strategies. Knowing the stages of relapse and having a plan in place can help you avoid slipping up. Relapse happens gradually; it’s not usually out of the blue.
The three key stages of relapse to be aware of include emotional, mental, and physical. These stages are like road signs that help us understand how relapse happens and how we can avoid it. Let’s explore these stages together to gain insight into the emotions and choices that influence our recovery. This understanding is a powerful tool for a better and healthier future.
What are the 3 Stages of Relapse?
After completing addiction treatment programs in Portland, one of the biggest worries for many individuals in recovery is the possibility of relapse. It’s common, and many experience it before achieving long-term sobriety. To prevent relapse, it’s essential to understand the three stages of relapse, as outlined by experts like Dr. Steven M. Melemis, MD, PhD, and Terence Gorski.
Stage 1: Emotional Relapse
Emotional relapse is the very beginning of the relapse process. It’s when negative emotions start to seep in. Some of the common warning signs of emotional relapse include:
- Isolation: Feeling the urge to withdraw from social activities and interactions, even from friends and family, leading to a sense of increasing loneliness and detachment.
- Mood Swings: Experiencing frequent and abrupt shifts in emotions, such as going from feeling okay to suddenly being overwhelmed with sadness, anxiety, or irritability.
- Neglecting Self-Care: A lack of attention to self-care routines, such as skipping meals, missing sleep, or neglecting personal hygiene.
- Bottled-Up Emotions: Keeping emotions, concerns, and struggles to oneself instead of sharing them with a support network, therapist, or counselor.
- Unresolved Issues: Avoiding or failing to address underlying issues or emotional traumas that may contribute to the relapse process.
- Romanticizing Substance Use: Nostalgically thinking about past substance use or minimizing the negative consequences of it leads to a potential desire to use it again.
- Increased Stress: Elevated stress levels or difficulty managing stress can further trigger negative emotions and cravings.
- Anxiety: Feeling a persistent sense of unease, restlessness, or nervousness that may exacerbate other emotional challenges.
Denial is quite common in the emotional relapse phase. People in this state start feeling uneasy, restless, and irritable. Sadly, many keep these feelings to themselves out of fear of judgment or failure. However, recognizing and dealing with these feelings early is vital as not doing it can make things worse and lead to further relapse stages. It’s crucial to spot emotional relapse and use effective coping strategies that you can learn in mental health treatment and self-care to prevent things from getting worse.
Stage 2: Mental Relapse
Mental relapse is a critical stage in the process of relapse, where an internal struggle comes to the forefront of one’s thoughts and behaviors. It’s the point where a person is engaged in a war within their own mind, torn between the desire to use substances again and the knowledge that doing so is harmful to their well-being and recovery.
Mental relapse signs may include the following:
- Inner Struggle: Feeling conflicted internally, with part of you wanting to use substances and another part resisting the urge.
- Intense Cravings: Experiencing powerful and persistent cravings for drugs or alcohol, making it hard to ignore the desire to use.
- Nostalgia for Past Use: Recalling the pleasurable aspects of substance use while minimizing or forgetting the negative consequences
- Secrecy and Dishonesty: Hiding your thoughts and intentions about using substances from friends and family, or even engaging in secretive behavior.
- Reconnecting with Past Contacts: Re-establishing connections with people from your past who were part of your substance-using social circle.
- Heightened Stress: An increase in stress and anxiety levels that can weaken your usual coping strategies.
Ignoring mental relapse can lead to physical relapse. As your control weakens and cravings get stronger, the risk of giving in to those urges goes up. To prevent this, seek support, use coping strategies, and stay committed to your recovery. These steps are vital to staying on the path to long-lasting sobriety and a better future.
Stage 3: Physical Relapse
Physical relapse is the final and most critical phase in the three-stage process of relapse. At this point, a person who was in recovery has already reverted to using substances. The physical relapse stage marks the actual return to drug or alcohol use after a mental and emotional battle to resist it.
During physical relapse, a person may consume substances in increasing quantities and frequency, leading to a return of the negative consequences associated with addiction. This can include health problems, strained relationships, legal issues, and other adverse effects.
But remember that it’s never too late – go detox or rehab, start over with the 12 steps program, see a therapist, make new sober friends. A relapse prevention plan can help identify triggers and coping strategies so you can avoid going back to square one.
What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?
Now that you know the three stages of relapse, it’s time to create a plan to help avoid slipping back into addiction. A relapse prevention plan can help you identify triggers, cope with cravings, and make lifestyle changes to support your recovery.
The first step is knowing what makes you want to use drugs or alcohol. These could involve feelings such as stress, boredom, or loneliness, as well as people, places, or actions connected to your previous addiction. Make a list of your triggers and how to avoid or address them.
Have Craving Coping Strategies
Come up with strategies to deal with cravings when they strike. Things like exercising, meditating, journaling, or talking to someone you trust can help cravings pass. Have these holistic approaches and coping tools ready so you can act right away. The more you practice them, the easier cravings will be overcome.
Other craving coping strategies include:
- Deep Breathing: Practice deep, slow breaths to calm your mind and reduce the intensity of cravings.
- Healthy Distractions: Engage in activities you enjoy or find fulfilling, such as hobbies, reading, or listening to music.
- Positive Self-talk: Remind yourself of the reasons you chose recovery and reinforce your commitment.
- Visualization: Imagine a future where you’ve overcome your addiction and focus on the positive aspects of that future.
- Delay Technique: Tell yourself you’ll wait for 15 minutes before giving in to the craving. Often, the urge lessens during this delay.
Identifying a support system, including friends, family, and support groups, that can provide encouragement and assistance during difficult times is a vital element of a relapse prevention plan. This network of trusted individuals serves as a safety net, offering emotional support, guidance, and a sense of accountability.
Make Lifestyle Changes
Make positive lifestyle changes to strengthen your recovery. Staying in touch with sober friends, trying out new hobbies, and sticking to a routine can prevent a relapse. Make sure to also avoid people or places that encourage drug or alcohol use. Self-care like eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep boosts your motivation to stay committed to your sobriety.
Create an Emergency Contact List
When cravings hit, especially early in recovery, it can be tough to handle them alone. A valuable relapse prevention plan is to make a list of your loved ones who can offer immediate support. Having someone you can call when you need it can help you push through cravings and remind yourself why you’re committed to staying on the right path. Keep this list with you at all times for quick access to a trustworthy person you can call.
A well-constructed relapse prevention plan is an important tool for maintaining sobriety and minimizing the risk of returning to substance use. It equips individuals with the strategies and support they need to navigate the challenges of recovery successfully. These plans are often developed with the guidance of addiction professionals or therapists to ensure they are comprehensive and tailored to the individual’s specific needs.
Relapse Prevention Planning at Crestview Recovery
Crestview Recovery offers a comprehensive approach to relapse prevention planning, designed to help individuals maintain their sobriety after completing our substance abuse treatment program.
This process begins with teaching individuals the necessary coping skills to manage the challenges they might encounter that could lead to a relapse. These skills are developed throughout the treatment program and aim to empower individuals to avoid relapses in their lives.
The approach at Crestview Recovery extends beyond the end of the treatment program. Aftercare is a crucial component that helps individuals apply the skills and tools they’ve learned during treatment to real-world situations. This ongoing support is seen as an integral part of the relapse prevention strategy.
If you or someone you care about is facing addiction challenges, Crestview Recovery provides a specialized program for preventing relapse. Reach out to us today to discover more about our addiction treatment facility!
Since 2016, Dr. Merle Williamson, a graduate of Oregon Health Sciences University, has been the Medical Director at Crestview Recovery, bringing a rich background in addiction medicine from his time at Hazelden Treatment Center. He oversees outpatient drug and alcohol treatments, providing medical care, setting policies, detox protocols, and quality assurance measures. Before specializing in addiction medicine, he spent 25 years in anesthesiology, serving as Chair of Hospital Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee and Chief of Anesthesia at Kaiser Permanente. This experience gives him a unique perspective on treating prescription drug addiction.