Recognizing the Signs of Relapse
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Relapse can happen at any point in a person’s recovery, and it can creep on them when they least expect it. It happens in stages that occur slowly without the individual even realizing what’s happening. There are three stages of relapse. They occur in order from emotional to mental to physical relapse. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of relapse when it is still in its early stages before it can reach the point of physical relapse, which involves actually using drugs or alcohol. This way, you can seek help and modify your treatment plan as needed in order to get back on track. It’s also important to be able to recognize some warning signs that you may be overlooking. 

The 3 Stages of Relapse 

#1 Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is the very first stage. Someone going through this stage is not even thinking about engaging in drug or alcohol use yet. But they may be struggling with certain emotions or engaging in certain behaviors that can set them up to experience a relapse in the future. Warning signs associated with this stage include: 

  • Bottling up one’s emotions instead of dealing with them in a productive, healthy way
  • Experiencing changes in sleep habits 
  • Experiencing frequent mood swings 
  • Not taking care of one’s physical health by eating healthy and fitting in daily exercise 
  • Going to support group meetings out of habit but not truly paying attention or participating 
  • Not taking the time to engage in fun, sober activities 
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family 
  • Not making time for self-care 
  • Focusing on other people’s issues instead of dealing with one’s own problems

#2 Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is the second stage of relapse. Some people going through this stage are going through an internal struggle. They may be glorifying past substance use or even be considering using again. They may think that this time they’ll be able to control their drug or alcohol use or minimize how it once affected their life. They may begin to plan how they will go about obtaining drugs or alcohol without others knowing. It’s very hard to stop the process of relapse when it reaches this point. Warning signs associated with this stage include: 

  • Experiencing cravings and urges to use 
  • Fantasizing about using 
  • Skipping support group meetings and abandoning one’s recovery plan 
  • Thinking about people and places associated with past use 
  • Bargaining with themselves 
  • Looking for opportunities to drink 

#3 Physical Relapse 

Physical relapse is the final stage of relapse. This is when the individual officially breaks their sobriety by drinking alcohol or using a drug. It’s important that someone who reaches this stage seeks help immediately in order to get back on track. 

Tips for Preventing Relapse 

If you think that you’re going through the beginning stages of relapse, the first thing that you want to do is speak to your primary care physician or treatment counselor as soon as possible. Make sure that you’re as honest as possible about what you’re going through, and don’t try to minimize your feelings. 

Many people experience relapse while in recovery, and it doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that you have done anything wrong. It just means that your treatment plan may need to be updated to suit your current state better. Perhaps you need to look into going to therapy more often or speaking with a therapist that is a better fit for you. Or maybe you could look into trying out a new support group made up of individuals that can help get you excited about your recovery journey again. 

It’s also possible that certain things in your life need changing. You might need to incorporate more fun, sober activities into your daily life, learn to manage stress better, take better care of your physical health, or practice more self-care. 

Some additional tips to avoid relapse include: 

  • Look at how far you’ve come and how much progress you have made since committing to your recovery.
  • Talk to a trusted friend. Sometimes just venting to a listening ear can make you feel better. 
  • Practice stress management techniques like breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Get outside into nature. This can help decrease your stress levels and cause you to feel more centered. 
  • Make time to treat yourself. Pick up your favorite meal, watch your favorite movie, or do something that you enjoy. 
  • Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. When you’re over-tired, you’re more likely to experience stress and more vulnerable to relapse. 
  • Make sure you’re taking care of your mental health.

When many people think about the term relapse, they think only of the physical lapse of one’s sobriety. However, relapse actually happens mentally before it happens physically. The three stages of relapse (in order) are emotional, mental, and physical. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of the early stages of relapse so that you can get the help you need as soon as possible without actually affecting your sobriety. This involves talking to your doctor or treatment counselor about how you’re feeling. That way they can modify your treatment plan as needed and help you make the necessary changes in your life to get back on track. Some tips to avoid relapse include practicing stress management, taking care of your mental health, and making time for fun. If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, The Ho Tai Way can help. Call (714) 581-3974 today.