The relapse process involves much more than just momentary weakness—it occurs as a series of steps that are heading toward addictive behavior. Along the way, however, there are many chances to actively use new techniques and to halt (and possibly reverse) damage that has already been done.
Relapse can occur for many different reasons, and entertaining temptation and acting on triggers are often to blame. In other words, at some point, the demands of maintaining change begins to feel as though they outweigh the benefits. Many individuals tend to forget that this is normal and that a long-term paradigm is highly dependent upon resistance.
Common Triggers of Substance Abuse Relapse
- Withdrawal symptoms that manifest upon cessation
- Poor self-care
- Continuing to hang out with people who use drugs or drink alcohol
- Going to places where one used to buy drugs or drink
- Being exposed items such as drug paraphernalia (e.g., needles, papers, or pipes)
- Unpleasant sensations and feelings (H.A.L.T.: hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
- Isolation and withdrawal—too much time spent alone with thoughts and feelings
- Stress related to relationships
- Overconfidence in the ability to regain sobriety after “normal” use of a substance
The Stages of Relapse
To understand how to facilitate a relapse prevention plan, you have to be able to identify the stages of relapse.
There are three recognized stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical.
During an emotional relapse, the individual is not actively considering using. However, behaviors and emotions are putting him or her in a mindset that could result in a future relapse.
Signs of emotional relapse include the following:
- Anxiety and depression
- Social withdrawal
- Not asking for help
- Missing peer support groups
- Missing therapy appointments
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor eating habits
Early Relapse Prevention
Relapse prevention requires one to realize that he or she is in a state of emotional relapse and immediately change their behavior. Here, a person needs to recognize that there is an emotional regression and ask for help.
Ultimately, if a person doesn’t change his or her behavior during this stage, he or she will likely become overwhelmed and desire to escape. This state will then, indeed, transition the person into the next stage, which is mental relapse.
During this time, one should take note of feelings of anxiety or depression and employ relaxation techniques. If a person doesn’t release resentments and fears through some method of relaxation, he or she may progress to the point in which he or she is uncomfortable in their own skin.
There will also be a need to identify healthy eating and sleeping habits that are inadequate and begin to improve self-care. The most critical strategy that one can use to prevent relapse at this stage is to take better care of oneself—people use substances to escape, unwind, or reward themselves in some way. Thus, they tend to relapse when they don’t take adequate care of themselves.
Many people will probably begin to think about drinking or using drugs if any of these situations persist for too long. But when a person asks for help, learns to relax, and practices good self-care, he or she can prevent those feelings from growing and ultimately avoid a full-blown relapse.
During a mental relapse, there is a war waging in one’s mind. Part of the individual desires to use drugs or drink, but another part does not. Early on during a mental relapse, a person may be casually thinking about using, but if the stage continues to advance unfettered, he or she will likely be considering it.
Signs of mental relapse include the following:
- Glamorizing drug or alcohol use
- Thinking about people, places, and things that trigger substance abuse
- Lying and secretiveness
- Associating with old friends who still use drugs or alcohol
- Daydreaming about use
- Considering the possibility or planning of a relapse
- Finding it more challenging to make the right decisions as the pull of possible substance abuse increases
Techniques for Dealing with Mental Urges
As a person thinks about using, the fantasy will probably include the potential that he or she will be able to control their use of the substance this time. But if past behavior is an indication of future behavior, one drink or one dose will likely lead to further abuse. The person may wake up the next day feeling guilty or ashamed, and these emotions may prevent you from quitting use again the next day.
So now, the individual is trapped in the same vicious cycle he or she always was. A common belief held by those in recovery is that they can get away with using it if it can be kept secret from others. This is when a person’s addiction attempts to convince them that they don’t have a problem and that recovery is merely an attempt to please loved ones central to their lives.
The following are three pieces of advice:
- If you are thinking about using, there is a definite need to recall the adverse consequences that have been encountered and the potential effects of relapse. Moreover, any person who has kept substance use in check would have done so before now.
- Tell a trustworthy friend or loved one that you are thinking about using. Call a family member, a friend, or a sponsor/someone else in recovery. The great thing about sharing is that the minute you start to talk about your feelings, the cravings and loneliness may go away.
- Make productive use of distractions—when you start thinking about using, do something else to occupy your time. Most cravings only persist for about 30 minutes- but when you have a craving, it may feel like an eternity, but if you can keep yourself busy, this time will be over before you know it.
We all need to embrace the fact that recovery happens one day at a time. This thought requires individuals to balance their goals with emotional fortitude. When you feel motivated enough not to use, then you can set goals to stay sober for the next week or month. But if you’re currently suffering, you can tell yourself that you won’t use for just today or even just the next 30 minutes.
Physical Relapse and Getting Treatment
Once a person actively begins thinking about relapse and neglects to use the strategies mentioned above, it doesn’t take much time to descend into a full physical relapse. It is challenging to stop the process of relapse, and efforts should be focused on preventing this during recovery.
That said, relapse is undoubtedly not the end of the world. For many, it is a part of the recovery process from which one can learn. The best thing an individual can do when encountering a decline is to seek treatment as soon as possible before the situation continues to get worse.
Just Believe Recovery offers partial-hospitalization and residential treatment programs that are ideal for those who have already completed residential treatment but have since relapsed and need additional support to re-establish sobriety.
If you have relapsed and feel you require further treatment, we urge you to contact us today. Discover how we help those who need it most take the first steps to reclaim their lives and foster the happiness, wellness, and freedom they deserve!