Navigating the Stages of Relapse for Long-Term Recovery

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For people who struggle with addiction, the fear of relapse can feel overwhelming. But something that a lot of people don’t know is that recovery and relapse actually go hand-in-hand. 

Below, we’ll explain the stages of relapse that ultimately lead to a healthier life. While nobody wants to relapse, knowing the warning signs of relapse can be a big help on your path to recovery. And understanding the stages of relapse can help you to get through any bumps in the road so that you can stay dedicated to your recovery.

How Do You Define Relapse?

In the context of alcohol or drug recovery, relapse refers to breaking a streak of sobriety by turning to an addictive substance again. Relapsing is incredibly common on the journey toward life-long recovery, but it does not mean that it is the end of all of your progress. 

Studies on drug relapse statistics show that over 85 percent of people return to using drugs within a year after first receiving treatment. Additionally, the alcohol relapse rate reveals that 90 percent of people who struggle with an addiction to alcohol experience relapse throughout the challenging four years post-treatment.

This news can feel discouraging, but it should actually be seen as a positive. Relapse is entirely normal, but people still manage to lead lives that are healthy and based in recovery. In this way, these statistics reveal that addiction is a chronic condition and managing recovery is a life-long process.

Drug and alcohol relapse can range in severity. For example, some people see relapse as any use of the addictive substance, even if it’s just a sip of an alcoholic drink. For others, relapsing might mean going on a bender and falling into active addiction again.

While this can seem incredibly intimidating, keep in mind that relapse is preventable. The first step in preventing relapse is to understand the warning signs so that you can get help before the addiction spirals out of your control.

stages of relapse

What Are The Stages of Relapse?

Relapse is often described as a cycle or a process that comes in stages. Remember, there are many different factors that contribute to both relapse and recovery. All of these factors fall into three main categories, according to a study on relapse prevention. These categories involve emotional, mental, and physical relapse.

In the beginning stages of relapse, also called emotional relapse, the individual does not want to drink or use drugs. Unfortunately, they may feel increasingly distressed and unhappy due to life around them or underlying mental health issues. And pushing away emotional distress is a step toward this stage of relapse. Furthermore, struggling with other mental health conditions can greatly impact your ability to maintain recovery. Some of the conditions that could lead to emotional relapse are:

All of the conditions above—amongst many others—require specialized treatment alongside addiction recovery. Other factors that increase the risk of emotional relapse would include isolation, avoidance of support systems encountering relapse triggers frequently, and failing to practice good hygiene.

Mental relapse is usually the next step after the emotional stage. One of the biggest differences between the emotional and mental relapse stages is that, earlier on, you don’t want to fall back into using or drinking. But when you reach the mental relapse stage, you begin to doubt yourself and what you truly want. In this stage, you might start craving drugs and alcohol again or feeling like you have no choice but to relapse.

Moreover, mental relapse involves an internal battle with yourself as you gradually begin to believe that you should go back to using drugs or alcohol. During this time, it might be more challenging for you to think about the reasons why you decided to recover in the first place. You might also begin to find excuses—such as having long, stressful days or experiencing physical pain—to turn to your past addictions.

The last stage of relapse occurs when you act upon the urges to use drugs or alcohol again. As stated earlier, having one drink or going to one party might seem manageable at first, but the truth is that relapsing could drive you further away from your end goals of recovery.

What Are the Relapse Warning Signs?

The symptoms of relapse are in line with those of alcohol or drug addiction as a whole. Relapse warning signs include:

  • Making excuses for drinking or using drugs
  • Taking more than the recommended dose of prescription medication
  • Turning to alcohol or drugs in times of stress
  • Worsening mental health symptoms
  • Socializing with people who supply and/or use drugs
  • Avoiding the use of recovery strategies

Relapsing after getting treatment for substance use disorders might bring up uncomfortable feelings. You might experience feelings of shame, guilt, or defensiveness. This means that reaching out for help can be even more challenging. That being said, reaching out for help is the only way that you can get back on your feet after a relapse or whenever you feel that you need support.

relapse prevention strategies

How to Avoid Relapse

Experiencing alcohol relapse or drug relapse after recovery can often feel discouraging. However, it’s important to know that relapse is part of recovery. This might sound contradictory. After all, how can relapsing help you to recover when the goal is to stay away from drugs and alcohol?

In truth, relapse is part of recovery because it strengthens you. During periods of relapse, people often feel ashamed and wonder how they could let themselves hit rock bottom again. This is when people start to recognize that addiction is a disease that requires long-term professional treatment. If you are wondering how to overcome the stages of relapse, look no further than the skills you will learn through treatment programs like the ones offered at Port St. Lucie Hospital.

In our calm, safe environment, we provide various treatment options to patients who are first starting their recovery journey as well as those who are struggling with relapse. These treatment modules include:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Family sessions
  • 12-step programming
  • Relapse prevention

As we have learned through this exploration of the stages of relapse, healing from addiction is not an overnight process and it is not something you have to do alone. With the right community, mental health care, and effective treatment options, you will know how to fight the cycle of addiction before it loops once again.

Looking for more information on the stages of relapse and how to begin the process of recovery? Give us a call at 772-408-5871 or submit a confidential contact form with your questions. Most importantly, know that no matter how many times you need to restart the process of recovery, you will always have support at Port St. Lucie Hospital.

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