Stages of Relapse
Relapse is a part of addiction recovery. It is believed that 40 to 60 percent of addicts will relapse at least once during their recovery. Relapse does not mean that the individual has failed at recovery, it is often viewed as a learning experience. Despite relapse often being impulsive and unplanned, there are warning signs that can point to the danger of a potential drug and alcohol relapse. These warning signs are displayed in stages – emotional, mental, and physical. We will go further in depth about these stages of relapse.
The emotional stage of relapse typically happens without even knowing it. A person may not actively be thinking about using a drug or drinking, but their actions may be setting them up to head down that path. Your brain may be leading you to triggers and groundwork that can set you up for resorting to drug use. This stage of relapse is said to align with Post Abuse Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), during which an addict can experience emotional and psychological withdrawals rather than physical ones. While physical withdrawals only last a few days, PAWS can last up to two years after an addict stops using.
Often during mental relapse, recovering addicts are the only ones who can pinpoint these symptoms as these internal battles are more difficult for others to pick up on. You may begin to think about using again, remembering how good it felt to escape stress and pain while using. During the mental stage of relapse, your mind may start to pick up on the feelings you’ve been experiencing and try to rationalize them. This will begin to test you and all of your hard work.
During the mental stage, it becomes very difficult to turn back and avoid relapse. Your mind will get you primed to accept it and make the choice. This is the point where it is critical to discuss your thoughts and feelings with your sponsor or addiction counselor. They can provide support and insight on what you are coping with and help steer you back to a place of clear and calm thinking.
There are some techniques an addict can use to help regain control of their thinking and to make the choice not to use or drink.
- Call someone, whether it be a sponsor, family member, or friend. Discussing your urges with another person can help in providing some clarity.
- Before impulsively acting on an urge to use, make yourself wait 30 minutes. Sometimes letting some time pass can help clear things up in your mind.
- Take into consideration what would happen if you were to have one drink or to only use once. It likely wouldn’t stop after just one use and eventually you’d find yourself at the same bottom you previously hit. Thinking about these actions and the consequences can curb the desire to use.
- Focus on today. Even people who have been sober for decades take their sobriety just one day at a time. Thinking about sobriety in terms of years or forever is too intimidating for anyone and can make you feel overwhelmed.
These techniques do not always work for everyone, leading some people to resort to acting on their urge to use. This stage of relapse includes the actual physical decision to use. When this stage of relapse occurs, some will use for months, while others will realize what they’ve done and place their focus back on recovery. After relapse, there are steps that can be taken to get yourself back on track with recovery.
What to do if you have relapsed:
- Talk to and spend time with your sponsor or a friend to who is also sober. Take this time to discuss your reasons for relapse, if you feel comfortable enough to do so.
- Give yourself time to feel your emotions and recognize where they came from. Frustration, shame, and guilt are all emotions that you may experience with relapse. Take time to validate your feelings.
- Even though you may not want to spend a great deal of time with friends who may not understand what you are experiencing, it is important to avoid isolating yourself.
Remember that there is always a way back to sobriety and recovery after a relapse. Although, the road to recovery may seem like a long one, focus on taking things one day at a time. Being able to recognize these early signs of relapse can help you to check your emotions and thoughts to get you back on the path of recovery.