What Are the Different Stages of Relapse? (Emotional, Mental, Physical)

what are the stages of relapse

Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process. For many, the path of addiction recovery is full of twists and turns. Most people in recovery will experience at least one relapse–a return to substance use after a period of abstinence. 

Many factors may contribute to a relapse. Usually, a relapse is not a single moment. Instead, it is a series of stages that can ultimately lead to a person using drugs or drinking again. Understanding the stages of relapse can help you or a loved one prevent relapse.

If you or someone you love requires addiction treatment or needs support in recovery, please reach out to the staff at Moving Mountains Recovery today. 

What Causes Drug and Alcohol Relapse?

A relapse is rarely a singular event. Instead, it is usually a series of stages that may lead someone to begin using drugs or alcohol after a period of abstinence. 

A relapse generally occurs gradually in three stages:

  • Emotional relapse
  • Mental relapse
  • Physical relapse

A variety of factors may contribute to a relapse. These may include stress, peer pressure, or cravings. Whenever an emotion, challenge, or stressor overwhelms a person’s ability to cope, there is a risk of relapse.

Many people who live with addiction attend substance abuse treatment programs that give them new, healthy ways to manage stress, challenges, or intense feelings. But many people may find that the skills they learned in rehab may not always be adequate for new problems they face after treatment ends. 

If you recognize the relapse stages, you may be able to take action to prevent it. However, it is crucial to remember that a relapse can be just a bump in the road–not a roadblock that prevents you from moving forward in your recovery. 

Understanding Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is the first stage of the process of relapsing. This stage takes place before any cravings develop. A person in the midst of an emotional relapse may experience rising negative emotions that lead them to abandon their healthy coping strategies.

Some signs of emotional relapse include:

  • Straying from your routine
  • Skipping meetings or therapy appointments
  • Neglecting your hygiene
  • Sleeping poorly or irregularly
  • Binging or eating a poor diet
  • Isolating from friends and family

Without recognizing and addressing the early signs of emotional relapse, you will likely continue down the path toward relapse.

Signs of a Mental Relapse

During a mental relapse, people often begin to consider using drugs or alcohol again actively. They may reminisce about the days when they were using or even consider the logistics of how they would start to use again.

People in the mental relapse stage may try to rationalize or justify their substance use. They may say or think things like:

  • “I’ll keep it a secret this time.”
  • “If I stopped once before, I can do it again.”
  • “I’m on vacation–I deserve it.”

It is essential to rely on healthy coping skills during a mental relapse until the craving passes. Call a friend or sponsor, attend a meeting, use mindfulness techniques to let the feeling pass, or find a healthy distraction, such as exercise or engaging in a hobby. 

There is a difference between thinking about your past substance use and reminiscing or fantasizing about it. It’s a natural part of recovery, but when you feel nostalgic for those days or tempted to use drugs or alcohol again, it’s crucial to seek help. Without addressing mental relapse, you are likely to head toward a physical relapse.

The Final Stage: Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is the final stage of relapse. Physical relapse includes not only the relapse but all of the actions that lead directly to it. 

During a physical relapse, people may engage in behaviors that can result in using drugs or alcohol again. This may include things like driving to the bar or liquor store or contacting your dealer. A physical relapse also includes using drugs or drinking.

You can still interrupt a relapse, even if you have taken steps toward it. If you find yourself reaching out to your dealer, you can put the phone down. If you drive to the liquor store, you can drive away. Even when it appears a relapse is imminent, you can still make a different decision. Call a friend. Reach out to your therapist or counselor. Get the support you need before a relapse to prevent it, or afterward to begin healing again.

What to Do if You Have a Relapse?

A relapse is not the end of the road. The majority of people in recovery have at least one relapse. Instead of seeing it as a roadblock, look at it as a chance to learn. Check-in with yourself. Ask:

  • What was I feeling before the relapse?
  • What new challenges am I facing?
  • What coping skills do I have? How can I use them next time? Do I need more?

Some people find that the skills they learned in treatment aren’t enough to help them cope with new feelings or challenges. You must get the support and treatment you need at any of the stages of relapse to stay committed to your recovery and live the healthy, fulfilling life you deserve.  

Get Help Now

If you or someone you love require addiction treatment or support in recovery, reach out to the specialists at Moving Mountains Recovery today. 

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