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. Recovering from addiction is typically a life-long journey filled with a number of bumps in the road, which can include withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and negative thought patterns. 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.
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.
Relapse toys with your emotions, twists your thoughts, and manifests itself physically, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Relapse might seem like a quick, sudden slip that happened because of overarching circumstances or difficult situations, but relapse typically happens in distinct 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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Relapse can be embarrassing and frightening, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that addiction treatment didn’t work. Relapse is a common part of addiction recovery that happens for a variety of reasons.
There are many things that can trigger a relapse. Fatigue, physical pain, unemployment, financial problems, and lack of support can all trigger relapse, but the five most common causes of relapse include:
Knowing the causes of relapse is useful, but knowing how to reduce your risk of relapse is the best way to prevent 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. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that will help you avoid relapse, but there are several ways you can decrease your chance of relapse. Some of the most practical ways to help you avoid or lower your risk of relapse include:
A few other helpful practices that might help reduce your risk of relapsing include:
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:
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.
Here at Genesis Recovery, we believing in beginning again. Addiction doesn’t have to control your life. Our treatment approach combines faith-based activities, clinical treatment, participation in a 12-step program, and the support of a strong recovery community.
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. When it does, we’ll support you, provide you with additional treatment as needed, and walk alongside you as you continue to 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.