The Path to Lasting Sobriety: Navigating the Stages of Relapse

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For individuals on the journey to recovery, understanding the stages of relapse is crucial in maintaining lasting sobriety. Relapse is a common and normal part of the recovery process. Rather than fearing or feeling ashamed of relapse, it is important to recognize it as an opportunity for growth and learning.

In this blog, we will delve into the three stages of relapse: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse. By gaining insights into stages of relapse and learning effective strategies to prevent relapse, we aim to empower individuals to pursue a healthier, substance-free life.

What is Relapse?

Relapse is the act of resuming drug or substance use after a period of abstinence. It is important to understand that relapse is common and should not be considered a failure. In fact, relapse is considered a normal part of the recovery process for individuals dealing with addiction.

One of the reasons why relapse prevention is heavily emphasized is because it can be more dangerous than regular drug use. When individuals relapse, their drug tolerance may be significantly lower than before they began treatment. This can increase the risk of overdose or other severe consequences. Therefore, recognizing the stages of relapse is not just about preventing someone from slipping, but it can be a life-saving intervention.

By understanding what relapsing entails and normalizing its occurrence, we can approach the recovery journey with compassion and a focus on learning and growth. Recovery is a process, and relapse can serve as a valuable learning experience to identify triggers, improve coping mechanisms, and reinforce the commitment to sobriety. Viewing relapse as an opportunity for self-reflection, adjustment, and renewed dedication to the recovery path is important.

Stages of Relapse: What You Should Know

Stage 1: Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is the initial phase of the relapse process. During this stage, individuals are not actively contemplating using drugs or alcohol. However, their emotions and behaviors may set them up for future relapse.

Some noticeable symptoms of emotional relapse are:

  • Not attending recovery support group meetings
  • Withdrawing from peers and family
  • Suppressing emotions
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits
  • Attending meetings but not actively participating
  • Focusing on other people’s problems to avoid one’s own
  • Inadequate management of anxiety, anger, or other emotional challenges
  • Intolerance
  • Defensiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Reluctance to seek help
  • Neglecting emotional and physical self-care
  • Neglecting sober activities and personal time

Engaging in self-reflection by asking certain questions to prevent getting trapped in the first stage of relapse is beneficial. Journaling can serve as an excellent starting point. Consider these self-reflection questions:

  • Are you practicing self-care?
  • How are you enjoying yourself?
  • Are you making time for yourself, or are you getting caught up in the lives and dramas of others?
  • What coping mechanisms are you using?
  • What can you add to your recovery program to ensure emotional and physical well-being?
  • Are you addressing your thoughts, emotions, and feelings?
  • Have you tried to actively participate in recovery support meetings?
  • How are you managing the daily stresses of life?

Recognizing that you are experiencing emotional relapse and making immediate behavioral changes are crucial for preventing relapse. If you notice any signs of the first stage of relapse, it’s better to discuss it with the professionals so that they can make changes in your treatment for addiction. This will help you stop at the first stage of relapse. Also, note that if tension builds, the risk of transitioning to stage 2—mental relapse—becomes greater.

Stage 2: Mental Relapse

When individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) neglect self-care and remain in a state of emotional relapse for extended periods, they start feeling uncomfortable with themselves. This discomfort leads to restlessness, irritability, and discontent. These emotions build up tension, triggering thoughts of using drugs or alcohol as an escape.

Mental relapse becomes a battle within the mind, with one side yearning to eliminate negative emotions through substance use while the other side resists relapse. Resisting relapse becomes increasingly challenging as the individual becomes more absorbed in this obsessive mental state.

Signs of Mental Relapse Include:

  • Dwelling on past drug or alcohol use and the addict’s lifestyle
  • Minimizing the consequences of past use
  • Romanticizing and glamorizing past use or lifestyle
  • Cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Engaging in lying or bargaining
  • Contemplating ways to control drug or alcohol use
  • Seeking opportunities to relapse
  • Planning a relapse

During the mental relapse stage, individuals may engage in bargaining. This can involve looking for excuses to drink or use drugs again or seeking ways to control their substance use. They may feel they deserve to drink or use drugs to celebrate occasions like holidays or weddings or because they are attending a friend’s gathering.

Stage 3: Physical Relapse

Individuals may progress to physical relapse if mental and emotional relapse symptoms are not acknowledged and addressed promptly. This stage involves the actual act of using drugs or alcohol. It is crucial to seek help immediately upon recognizing physical relapse to prevent further entrenchment in the destructive cycle of addiction.

How to Avoid Relapse in Your Recovery Journey?

To avoid relapse, it is important to be aware of triggers that may lead to a return to harmful addictive behavior. Some common triggers include:

Social Triggers

These are people or groups of people associated with drinking or drug use. They may be referred to as drink buddies or drug buddies. Encountering such individuals can act as a social trigger and create cravings for alcohol or drugs.

Emotional Triggers

Drug use and heavy drinking often have deep emotional roots. Whether it’s celebrating joy or self-medicating to numb pain or sadness, these emotions often lead to cravings. Emotional triggers can be challenging to overcome.

Pattern Triggers

Certain times of the day, seasons, significant events, or holidays can act as pattern triggers and trigger cravings for alcohol or drugs.

Withdrawal Triggers

Social, emotional, and pattern triggers are psychologically conditioned. Withdrawal triggers, on the other hand, are biological responses to the absence of substances in the body. These triggers commonly occur in the first few weeks of recovery as the body adjusts to the absence of the substance.

While triggers can sometimes occur randomly, they are typically connected to past drinking or drug abuse.

The most potent triggers often span multiple categories. For example, if someone used to drink heavily every Christmas with their family, they may face triggers across all the mentioned categories, leading to strong cravings.

Reach Out for Help!

 If you believe that you are at any of the mentioned stages of relapse, it’s better to discuss it with your health practitioner. They will assist you in dealing with the feelings and help you avoid addiction behaviors.

Are you looking for highly experienced and reliable professionals? Contact us! We are a team of qualified professionals who can make your recovery journey achievable. Don’t wait, and reach out to New Hope Healthcare today at 865-800-0947

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