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Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic disease. It is known that recovering addicts can return to their substance abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that with drug or alcohol addiction; 40-60% of addicts relapse to drug use.

Drug or alcohol abuse relapse happens in stages. It does not happen all at once or instantly. The relapse process typically begins days or even weeks before actual drug use. The relapse process has three stages: starting on an emotional level, then progressing to the mental stage, and finally falling back on the dark path of substance abuse.

Not every addict will relapse, but those who do should understand that relapse does not mean failure or that the recovery process has failed. Many individuals believe that relapse is spontaneous, but some warning signs could indicate that relapse is slowly approaching.

Stages of Relapse

Relapse slowly progresses over weeks or even months after treatment. Most individuals falling back into drug use typically follow three stages before actual substance use occurs. Researchers have split these stages into three phases that are easy to understand.

Stage 1: Emotional

During the first stage of emotional relapse, individuals are not thinking of using drugs or drinking alcohol. They are not executing their coping skills or self-care. If individuals are neglecting their self-care, it can lead to negative thoughts, feelings of unhappiness, and stress levels can increase. As one continues to neglect self-care, a mental relapse slowly evolves. Signs of emotional relapse can include:

  • Showing up to recovery meetings, but not speaking up or participating.
  • Separating themselves from friends or family members who are supporting their recovery process.
  • Not speaking up about their feelings towards past drug use, recovery or treatment process.

Stage 2: Mental Relapse

During the second stage of relapse, mental relapse, individuals begin thinking about what would happen if they used drugs or alcohol just one time. They know they should not use again and may even try using the coping skills they learnt in treatment. However, it is common for recovering addicts who are in the mental relapse stage to have negative thoughts and try to deny any other defense aspects.

People, places, and things that are related to past alcohol or drug use can initiate cravings. During this stage, recovering addicts may even lie or look for reasons to relapse; some may also plan their own relapse.

Stage 3: Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is the final stage of relapse. At the beginning of this stage, individuals will either slip up or entirely give into drugs or alcohol use. Some may feel regret instantly after use and remember their reason for recovery; others will need help getting back on the right road. If you or a loved one has relapsed, contact a treatment facility or therapist to help find the motivation to recover and stay on the right track to a sober life.

Common Triggers for Relapse

A trigger, sometimes called a stressor, is anything that causes a person to remember a traumatic event. Triggers vary from person to person. Triggers are often what causes a recovering addict to begin to relapse. While triggers cannot be predicted, they may include the following:

  • Withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, weakness or anxiety.
  • Deprived self-care, including eating, sleeping or stress management.
  • Associating with friends who still use drugs or alcohol.
  • Visiting places they once used or bought drugs from.
  • Post-acute withdrawal symptoms, including irritability, mood swings, reduced sleeping habits or anxiety.
  • Emotions that could be uncomfortable, including hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness (H.A.L.T).
  • Relationships
  • Isolation
  • Pride and overconfidence, (believing you do not have a drug or alcohol addiction any longer, or that you do not need
  • help with your addiction).

Early Warning Signs of Relapse

After addiction treatment, newly sober individuals tend to follow their discharge orders precisely and may even join self-help groups or support meetings. This does not completely stop the possibility of relapse. However, knowing warning signs of relapse and understanding how to prevent it, family members can help an addict stay on the road to recovery.

Below are common early warning signs of relapse:

  • Detaching
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood and behavior change
  • Ignoring self-care
  • Skipping self-help groups or lying to sponsors
  • Irritation
  • Not carrying out daily responsibilities
  • Accusing other people for their own addiction
  • Stealing, lying, cheating or participating in illegal behaviors
  • Surrounding themselves with other addicts
  • Talking about their past drug use in a positive way
  • Defending their addictive behavior

Understanding these warning signs and the three stages of relapse as well as recovery can help loved ones intervene sooner to prevent relapse.

Serenity Acres can help you prevent these three stages of relapse. We are a dual diagnosis and addiction treatment facility. We have skilled professionals who help patients avoid the possible risk of relapse by offering relapse prevention planning along with post-treatment therapy. Being a part of this comprehensive addiction program to recovery allows each patient a customized plan that fits their needs. Do not attempt withdrawal alone, contact Serenity Acres today.