For individuals struggling with substance use disorders (SUDs), maintaining sobriety is often an everyday challenge. A relapse is when an individual stops maintaining their goal of reducing or avoiding the use of alcohol or other drugs and returns to their previous levels of use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, individuals in addiction recovery often experience at least one relapse.

Addiction is a chronic medical condition characterized by an inability to control substance use despite negative consequences. Because of the chronic nature of addiction, relapse is often a part of recovering from this disease.

Relapse Warning Signs

Because addiction is a chronic disease, relapse is always a possibility, no matter how long a person has abstained from substance use. This is why it’s so important to know the warning signs of relapse. Knowing the warning signs is the best way to prevent a relapse from occurring. Potential warning signs of an impending relapse include:

  • The individual starts romanticizing drug use
  • The individual starts to believe they are prepared to use casually
  • The individual undergoes a sudden change in behavior
  • The individual is experiencing increased isolation and avoidance of their support system
  • The individual begins to doubt the effectiveness of the recovery process

In addition to warning signs, it’s also important to understand the three stages of relapse to prevent them from happening.

#1. The Emotional Relapse Stage

The emotional relapse stage is the first stage in the relapse process. It can occur long before a return to actual substance use. One enters this phase when they begin to cope with their emotions in unhealthy ways. This may look like isolating themselves from others, discontinuing self-care strategies, quitting support group meeting attendance, or denying that problems exist. While they may not be thinking about using in this stage, it can be a precursor to relapse down the road.

#2. The Mental Relapse Stage

The second stage of relapse is the mental relapse stage. During this stage, one becomes aware that they have conflicting feelings about sobriety. While they may want to remain sober, there is a part of them that is thinking about using or having cravings for substances. This may look like minimizing the negative consequences of using, glorifying past substance use, or seeking out opportunities to use.

#3. The Physical Relapse Stage

The final stage of a relapse is the physical relapse stage. This is when the final action is taken and one resorts to using substances again. What may start as a small dose or one-time occurrence can quickly lead to a full-blown relapse and a return to loss of control over substance use. This does not mean one has failed in recovery; it simply means they need more help and additional support moving forward.

Preventing Relapse

There are five relapse-preventing rules of recovery that individuals in recovery may choose to follow as a guidebook on abstaining from using substances:

#1. Change Your Life

Change negative thinking patterns; avoid people, places, and things associated with using; and focus on the five rules of recovery.

#2. Be Completely Honest

Be honest with others and yourself. Practicing honesty can be uncomfortable, but those in recovery are challenged to do so consistently.

#3. Ask for Help

Don’t go through it alone. Addiction recovery is most successfully done when done in a group setting. When one feels like they’re going down a path that leads to relapse, peer and family support is more important than ever.

#4. Practice Self-Care

People often begin using substances as an escape from everyday stressors. It’s important to find alternative healthy coping mechanisms to deal with those emotions.

#5. Don’t Bend the Rules

Though one may feel confident in their ability to stay sober once they’ve abstained for some time, they shouldn’t mistake this for being able to abandon the recovery activities they’ve been partaking in thus far.

The importance of a strong relapse prevention plan cannot be stressed enough. While it sounds like a secondary goal, preventing relapse is a powerful tool in any recovery process.

Getting Help After Relapse

Recovery from addiction can be a long and challenging process. The odds of relapsing can be high. While it’s important to be aware of potential triggers, the stages of relapse, and the rules of recovery, relapse is still a possibility at some point along the road to recovery. If you find yourself relapsing and unable to stop using substances after that relapse, it may be time to re-engage professional help.

It’s important to note that if you’ve relapsed, it does not mean that you or your treatment has failed. It simply means that you must continue or alter your treatment plans. Renewed participation in a treatment program can help you to stop using and reduce the risk of future relapses.

Due to the chronic nature of addiction, relapse is often part of the disease. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for individuals to relapse at some point during their recovery journey. Relapses shouldn’t be seen as failures, but rather as signs that you may need additional support or a different form of treatment. Where should you look to further expand your treatment when relapse looms? At Bella Monte Recovery Center in Desert Hot Springs, California, we do whatever it takes to give you the best, most individualized chance at successful recovery and relapse prevention. We recognize that the issue isn’t just about drugs and alcohol, and we address all factors contributing to substance use throughout the recovery process and even after treatment. At Belle Monte Recovery Center, you won’t be alone on your journey. For more information about the programs that we offer, call (800) 974-1938 today.