Recovering from addiction is a remarkable achievement that requires discipline, focus, support, and willpower. But addiction is a chronic condition that doesn’t go away easily. In fact, many people slip up at some point in their journey to overcome substance use challenges. Behavioral health experts call that misstep “relapse” and it’s more common than you might think. But relapse doesn’t mean addiction treatment didn’t or can’t work. It’s a sobering reminder of the chronic nature of addiction and a sign that you may need further treatment or aftercare support. You can help prevent relapse by knowing the warning signs, the common triggers, and how and why these challenges happen. You can also lessen your risk of relapse by taking up lifestyle habits that help you manage triggers and reduce stress.
What is Relapse?
Relapse is a deterioration in your health after a temporary improvement. If you have had a substance use disorder, relapse means a return to drugs or alcohol after you have stopped using them. It’s a setback that is often defined by the physical act of drug or alcohol use, but relapse starts long before the actual slip up.
The 3 Stages of Drug Relapse
Relapse doesn’t happen suddenly. Instead, it’s a gradual process that happens in stages. If you use drugs after a period of abstinence, you might think that your relapse happened the moment you returned to drug use. But the truth is, that relapse started earlier, when you began to lose control of your emotions and struggled with negative thoughts. Once you’re struggling with those kinds of thoughts, it becomes easier to turn back to old habits like drug use.
In most cases, relapse happens in three distinct stages: first, emotional, then mental, and finally physical, the most obvious and recognizable stage.
Let’s review each stage below.
#1. Emotional Relapse & Common Triggers
At this point, you’re probably not even thinking about drugs or alcohol. You may even be in active recovery, but your emotions and behaviors are paving the way for relapse. Emotional relapse may start with simple everyday stress that isn’t controlled. When this stress takes over, your emotions and impulses may become difficult to manage. Some common triggers that might lead to emotional relapse include:
- Inability to ask for help
When you feel stress building up, accept and acknowledge these feelings, then contact a sponsor or visit a peer support group. Not addressing an emotional relapse can also allow emotional triggers to lead to a mental relapse.
#2. Mental Relapse & Common Symptoms
In this stage, you may feel like there’s a war going on in your mind. There’s a part of you that wants to use drugs or alcohol again, and there’s a part of you that wants to stay sober. During this time, you may be thinking about using substances more than you had earlier in your recovery. Some general signs of mental relapse can include:
- Thinking about people, places, and feelings associated with substance use
- Fantasizing about using substances or drinking alcohol
- Glamorizing your past
- Lying about how you are feeling to yourself or others
These signs don’t mean you’ll relapse, but they are a sure indicator that you need to check in with your network of supportive people and ask for help.
#3. Physical Relapse & Active Drug Use
This is the most obvious stage of relapse. At this point, you’re actively using substances again. You may be frustrated that you moved from treatment and sobriety back to your old habit of substance use. But this isn’t the time to get down on yourself or throw your hands up in total surrender to the temptation. You must recognize that relapse is a common, normal part of addiction recovery, get the help you need sooner rather than later, and recommit yourself to long-term sobriety.
Drug Relapse Statistics After Rehab & Treatment
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 to 60% of people with substance use disorders relapse after treatment. In other words, between 4 and 6 people out of every 10 people who receive treatment for addiction challenges will relapse at some point in their recovery journey. You should also keep in mind the following statistics:
- 90% of individuals who recover from alcoholism are likely to experience at least one relapse within four years.
- 60% of people relapse during inpatient and outpatient rehab.
- Less than 20% of patients who complete a drug and alcohol treatment program remain clean for an entire year.
- 60% of people who stay clean for two years are likely to remain clean.
Relapse is common, but it doesn’t have to be a part of your recovery journey. Our goal is to help you stay clean after addiction treatment. That’s why we emphasize relapse prevention in all of our treatment programs.
Ways to Prevent Drug Relapse
Even though relapse is a common part of recovery, it can be dangerous and may lead to overdose. Because of this, you should make every effort to prevent relapse. Some common but helpful practices that might help you avoid or lower your risk of relapse include:
- Avoid temptations
- Change your environment
- Know your triggers and how to manage them
- Develop a support network
- Participate in meaningful activities
- Practice mindfulness
- Don’t get complacent in your recovery
- Take advantage of relapse education and prevention programs when you’re in rehab
- Pay attention to H.A.L.T., moments when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired
Let Us Help You Avoid or Recover From Relapse
Here at Genesis Recovery, we believing in beginning again. At the same time, we know that changing your life is hard. Relapse happens and we don’t judge you when it does, but we also strive to help you avoid those risks and recover. Relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means that addiction is a chronic disease and that you need more help, support, and treatment. Let us help you get there. Call us today at 619-797-7319 if you or a loved one have relapsed.