Understanding the Different Stages of Relapse

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Understanding the Different Stages of Relapse

You may think of relapse as only the physical act of taking drugs or alcohol after undergoing treatment for substance use disorder (SUD). Yet, relapse occurs mentally before it happens physically, sometimes without you even realizing it. 

There are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. It is crucial to be able to recognize the signs associated with each one. This way, if you begin to notice that you are heading into an early stage of relapse, you can seek the proper help before progressing any further or reaching the stage of physical relapse. It is possible to prevent relapse as long as you make the necessary changes in time. 

Identifying the Signs of Emotional Relapse 

The first stage of relapse is emotional relapse. When you are going through an emotional relapse, you are not even thinking about using drugs or alcohol yet. Although, decisions you may be making or certain emotions you may be dealing with could eventually lead you to engage in substance use in the future. 

Some common signs to look out for in regards to emotional relapse include: 

  • Not making time for fun sober activities
  • Keeping your emotions inside instead of dealing with them 
  • Distancing yourself from family and friends 
  • Not taking care of your physical health by making sure to eat nutritious meals, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep 
  • Failing to practice healthy self-care 
  • Failing to practice positive coping mechanisms 
  • Not actively engaging in support group meetings or skipping them entirely 

If you believe you are in this stage of relapse, you will want to take action immediately. You can speak with your therapist or addiction specialist about how you are feeling, and they may offer advice or decide to make alterations to your treatment plan to better fit where you are right now. You will also want to consider the following questions. 

  • How are you making time for fun in recovery?
  • How are you managing your stress levels? 
  • How attentive have you been during your recovery meetings?
  • What can you add or change to your recovery plan to make it better fit your needs? 

Identifying the Signs of Mental Relapse 

The second stage of relapse is mental relapse. If you are going through this, you may be romanticizing your past substance use and dreaming about engaging in it again. In this stage, your dedication to your recovery journey is wavering and you may be minimizing the importance of your sobriety. You may falsely believe you will be able to control your substance use this time around. You may even be making up excuses for why you should be able to have a drink or take a particular substance. At this point, you face a high risk of experiencing a physical relapse. 

Some signs to look out for during this stage include: 

  • Planning different ways to obtain drugs or alcohol 
  • Lying to yourself or others 
  • Thinking of ways to control your substance use 
  • Imagining what it would be like to engage in substance use 
  • Planning the physical relapse 
  • Bargaining with yourself by considering switching from one substance to another

Avoiding Physical Relapse 

The third stage of relapse includes actively consuming drugs or alcohol. Aside from reaching out to your doctor, therapist, or addiction specialist and letting them know that you are struggling, there are some additional actions that you can take to prevent a relapse. Some examples include: 

#1. Look back at how far you’ve come. 

You have put a lot of time, effort, and determination into staying dedicated to your recovery journey. As a result, you have made lots of progress and likely have experienced positive changes in your life. Now, take the time to consider what would happen if you did relapse. Would any temporary gratification brought about by drugs or alcohol truly be worth going backward for? Thinking with this mentality can help you gain a better perspective. 

#2. Spend time talking with a family member or trusted friend. 

Not only can you express how you are feeling without fearing judgment, but this trusted individual can help remind you of how far you have come and how vital your sobriety is. 

#3. Be sure to practice healthy coping mechanisms for stress. 

This could include breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, time away from social media, or staying active. 

#4. Remember that this will pass. 

When you are experiencing an urge, it can often feel like it will last a lifetime. Although, in many cases, urges pass after only about 15 to 30 minutes. 

#5. Remember to take things one day at a time. 

You do not need to focus on the determination it will take to stay sober for the rest of your life; just focus on today. 

There is more to the process of relapsing than just the physical act of taking drugs or consuming alcohol. There are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. It is essential to know how to identify the signs leading up to physical relapse so that you can seek help before it’s too late. Some signs of emotional relapse include skipping support group meetings, isolating oneself, and failing to practice self-care. Some signs of mental relapse include glorifying past substance use, considering using again, or convincing yourself that you’ll be able to control your substance use if you use again. If you think you may be approaching a relapse, it is vital to speak with your doctor as your treatment plan may need to be adjusted. If you’re struggling with substance use, our team at The Kimberly Center can help. Call (855) 452-3683 today.

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