What is considered a Relapse in Recovery?
When you are in treatment for drugs or alcohol, the biggest thing you want to prevent is a relapse in recovery. It is a lot of hard work to stay sober, and the end goal is to stay away from any kind of mood-altering substance.
There is a lot of debate on what is considered a relapse. For example, if a recovering heroin addict has a beer, is that a relapse? Or, if an alcoholic smokes a little marijuana, does that count? While every person’s recovery is a completely individual process, the best thing you can do is stay away from everything.
What’s a Relapse?
When a person relapses, it means they are trying to abstain from drugs or alcohol and falter. If it happens to you, it may be because you had a moment of weakness, gave in to temptations, or a life event got the better of you and you felt like the only place you could get some clarity was in your substance of choice. However, many believe that relapse is a singular event. But, according to
Always, relapse is a process rather than a singular moment. Most individuals picture relapse as the act of actually using a drug. However, rather, this is only one step in the relapse process. In reality, the act of using is simply the end of the relapse process. So, being able to identify this process can help to also identify an ongoing relapse. And, ward it off before the physical act of relapse actually happens. This is why discovering relapse prevention methods through treatment is essential.
Identifying the Three Stages of Relapse
According to Gorski, a substance abuse and relapse prevention expert, and NIH, a relapse in recovery happens in stages, not all at once. These three stages include mental, emotional, and physical stages of relapse. They include characteristics of the following:
Emotional: During this first stage of the process of relapse, individuals may not yet be thinking about using. However, their emotions and behaviors resulting from those emotions may set them up for the thinking about the physical stage of relapse. For example, when a person stops wanting to involve themselves in treatment efforts like going to meetings due to how they’re feeling, this may be a sign of the emotional stage of relapse. Other signs of the emotional stage of relapse can include hiding emotions, avoiding friends and family, and diminishing self-care habits (eating, exercising, and sleeping).
Mental: The second stage of relapse involves mental images of physically using the drug of choice. And, experiencing cravings to use. In many scenarios, this stage is a mental battle between wanting to stay sober and wanting to use. And, some symptoms of this mental stage of relapse can include imagining drug use, glorifying past days of drug abuse, thinking about places and people that would provoke drug use, bargaining situations where drug use may be acceptable, searching for optimal relapse moments, and actually arranging a physical relapse.
Physical: This final stage of relapse is what most people imagine when talking about a relapse. In most cases, the physical relapse occurs when a person thinks they are least vulnerable. Or, rather, that they may not get caught. However, even if a person only uses once or has one drink, the emotional and mental stages of relapse will still hinder. So, changes to the mind and behaviors made during treatment may revert back to how they were during active addiction.
The Reality of Relapse in Recovery
Unfortunately, relapse is a part of the recovery process. In fact, it’s estimated that over 40% of individuals who get help for addiction through treatment end up relapsing in the earliest days of recovery. But, people still recover. So, even though relapse may happen, it doesn’t have to be the end of recovery. Sadly, many don’t know that relapse is all that common. Or, they may feel that, in the event of a relapse, their recovery journey is at an end. So, they end up giving up on recovery efforts and reverting back to self-harmful behaviors, including daily drug abuse. This is why it’s so important to understand the stages of relapse so that 1) relapse can be identified and prevented when identified in its earliest stages and 2) so that recovery efforts are not diminished due to a relapse.
Investing in Treatment that Teaches About Identifying the Relapse Process
Treatment should give you the tools you need to help prevent getting to the third and final stage of relapse. It is up to you to use them wisely. This is known as relapse prevention. Here at Wellness Retreat Recovery Center, we make sure that our patients understand the stages of relapse. This way, they can understand what they’re dealing with before they get to the physical stage of relapse; using their drug of choice. Or, if they do in fact lapse by using, they understand the next steps in getting back on track to recovery. Our relapse prevention program includes education about the relapse process. And, determining underlying causes of addiction and relapse triggers so that each individual understands what may stimulate the process of relapse in their own life.
Responding Negatively to a Relapse
If you do relapse on any substance, you can’t completely devastate yourself over it. All too often, individuals relapse and think it’s the end for their recovery. But, as noted, this doesn’t have to be the case! The reality is that relapse happens in recovery quite often. It is challenging to stay sober, and only those who are extremely dedicated can do it. In the event of a relapse, don’t be shy about getting help. The sooner you can catch it, the better. Talk to someone you trust about what happened and look for help. The sooner you get back on track with treatment and support, the sooner you will start to feel like yourself again!
If you are in a situation where relapse is hard to avoid, like living with active drug addicts or alcoholics, it is important to remove yourself from the situation. Staying sober is hard enough without temptation in your face all the time. You are much more important than that. So, be made aware of what may provoke emotions which you may want to avoid. And, people and situations which may lead you to think about relapsing. While it may seem difficult now, sooner or later, it will become second nature to look out for relapse triggers and steer clear of them to promote relapse prevention.
Relapse in Recovery. The Bottom Line.
People have different beliefs about what is considered a relapse in recovery. However, in reality, it means that you should absolutely abstain from any mood altering substance, even if it is not the same one you went to rehab for in the first place. It is very common to replace one addiction for another, so you want to avoid falling into that trap and cycle of addiction if at all possible.
Recovery means being in a sober mindset. This means you cannot drink, you cannot smoke pot, and you should even avoid substances like kratom and kava. A common question is about prescription medication is, what happens if you have an ailment and need something from the doctor? Or you have surgery and get prescribed opioids afterward?. Situations like this are up to your discretion, but many addictions begin with these kinds of drugs, and people who are dedicated to a sober lifestyle avoid them at all costs. Substitutes exist that provide comparable relief without the negative consequences of addiction, so talk to your doctor about your options and be honest about your history.
In any case, treat your recovery gently, as it is delicate and susceptible to penetration. Always be mindful that you may be tempted to indulge in self-harming behaviors which can lead to backtracking into self-damaging behaviors. Remember always the work you’ve already put into becoming the person you are today; free of drug abuse and dependence! Finally, be prepared to reach out for help in any situation you may be wary of; even if you haven’t noticed symptoms of the first stage of relapse yet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
In the end, you went to treatment to achieve a sober lifestyle. The longer you avoid relapse in recovery, the more you will see that you don’t need drugs or alcohol to have fun or feel good. The best thing to do is avoid them altogether, no matter what the substance is. We all know addiction is a slippery slope, so it isn’t worth it to even test out the waters.
Getting Help for Relapse at Wellness Retreat Recovery Center
If you or a loved one has recently relapsed or is experiencing any of the symptoms of the three stages of relapse, get help today. We can assist in helping you get back on the track to sobriety by instilling relapse prevention techniques you may utilize in daily life. If you’re ready to get back on track after a relapse, contact us today to speak with one of our specialists.
**Originally posted on September 25, 2017. Updated on March 23, 2019.