Are you trying to figure out if the stages of relapse you are going through are normal? Let’s take a look at what is and what is not normal and why it matters.

Contrary to popular belief, recovery from addiction is a lot more complex than simply “recovered” or “not recovered.” For most people, recovery is a long and intricate process that includes highs and lows.

Also contrary to popular belief, relapse is a normal part of recovery. It’s not desirable, and it can be a big hurdle to overcome, but it’s not a failure. The important thing to know is that by recognizing relapse warning signs in the early stages, you can prevent relapse before it happens and stay on the path of sobriety.

Here, we’ll guide you through the three stages of relapse and how to pay attention to relapse symptoms so that you can prevent yourself from slipping back into addiction.

Alcohol and Drug Relapse Statistics

Stages of Relapse

Before we get into the stages of relapse, it’s important to define relapse and talk about how common it is.

The term “relapse” refers to when people who have quit a drug or alcohol start using their substance of choice again. Sometimes, relapse is just a one-time event. Other times, it takes weeks, months, or even years to stop using again.

While people would get sober and stay sober forever in an ideal world, that’s not how it works in reality. Research has shown that up to 60 percent of people relapse after receiving professional addiction treatment. The alcohol relapse rate may be even higher, with some studies estimating a long-term relapse rate of up to 80 percent.

Unfortunately, relapse is part of recovery for many individuals. But after you’ve done the hard work of detoxing and starting your recovery process, it feels terrible to relapse. A lot of people end up feeling guilty and even depressed. Although those are completely understandable feelings to have when you’ve relapsed, it’s also important to know that relapse is a completely normal part of the recovery process.

The Three Stages of Relapse

Experts have identified three stages of relapse that describe what the process is like for many people. These stages each have different warning signs that you can watch out for so that you can stop the process of relapse before it’s too late. Because while relapse is normal, it’s also deeply upsetting, so use this this information to give yourself the best odds of avoiding it whenever possible.

Stage One: Emotional Relapse

Stages of Relapse - Emotional Relapse

In the earliest stage of relapse, people aren’t yet thinking about starting to use drugs or alcohol again. However, the warning signs are there: You might start to feel high levels of emotional stress that feel impossible to handle. This stress can worsen your mental state, which makes it easier to relapse.

Some warning signs of this stage of relapse include:

  • Denial: You can feel negative emotions, but you dismiss them as unimportant.
  • Isolation: You’ve stopped reaching out to others for support. This may include quitting support groups.
  • Suppression: You might feel like you’re bottling your feelings up, or not expressing them, and this might lead to trouble sleeping and eating.

It’s easiest to stop yourself from relapsing down the road if you catch yourself while you’re still in this stage. Ask yourself whether you’re surrounding yourself with the support you need and if you’re in denial about any difficult things you might be going through. With the right support, you can stop yourself from walking further down the road into relapse.

Stage Two:  Mental Relapse

Unlike emotional relapse, this stage of relapse is more overt. Typically, this means you are actively thinking about using drugs and alcohol to cope with the problems you’re facing. When individuals don’t receive support in the emotional stage of relapse, they are more likely to progress into the mental stage of relapse.

In this stage, people are at war with themselves. Part of them fantasizes about using drugs or alcohol to escape from the problems they’re facing. On the other hand, they remember what it was like when they were actively using, and they don’t want to walk that road again. They’re desperately trying not to fall back to a life of addiction, but it’s becoming harder and harder to resist.

Some warning signs of the mental relapse stage are:

  • Fantasizing about using
  • Experiencing cravings or urges to use
  • Lying to others about how you feel
  • Rationalizing or glamorizing past substance abuse
  • Looking for opportunities to use again, such as hanging out with friends you used to use with or going to bars
  • Trying to convince yourself that you can drugs or alcohol again without risking a renewal in your addiction

At this stage of relapse, it’s harder to break the cycle than in the emotional stage. But it’s still not too late, and feeling the urge to drink or use drugs again should be a large sign that you need addiction recovery support immediately.

Stage Three: Physical Relapse

This is the stage of relapse that most people are familiar with. During stage three, all of the emotions that you’ve been struggling with come bubbling over. Eventually, this becomes drinking or using drugs again, and it is no longer to prevent relapse. However, just because you relapse does not mean that there is no path back to sobriety.

Even if you’ve used drugs or alcohol again, it isn’t too late to turn back toward recovery. If you’ve reached this stage of relapse, it’s important not to give up on yourself. Get the appropriate help immediately so that you can nip your substance use in the bud before it turns into an addiction once again.

How to Avoid Relapse

The most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about how not to relapse is that relapse is most preventable when you’re in the earliest stage of relapse: the emotional stage. When you start noticing warning signs of emotional relapse, get the help you need.

At Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, our dual diagnosis program includes discharge planning and relapse prevention. We start working with you on your discharge plan the moment you start with treatment with us, because we understand that recovery is a lifelong process that will continue long after you leave our facility. Other key features of our inpatient programming include:

  • 24/7 care, ensuring the patient remains safe and as comfortable as possible
  • Relapse prevention therapies
  • Intensive treatment with daily therapeutic activities
  • Evidence-based therapies that build long-term recovery skills

If you’re ready to start a process of recovery with a treatment team that will help you avoid relapse down the line, our admissions specialists are on standby and ready to help you get started. Give us a call at 937-483-4933 or contact us online today. Relapse is a common part of recovery, but you don’t have to go through it alone.

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