Completing an addiction treatment program is a huge accomplishment, but the hard part isn’t over. In fact, it’s only beginning. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people will experience at least one relapse, and the transition from treatment back into the community is a time where the risk of relapse is at its highest.
Relapse isn’t a sign of failure. It’s a part of recovery, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken any less seriously. Relapse can be really dangerous, especially for someone who has abstained from substance use for a long time. Once you’ve lost your tolerance for your substance of choice, taking the same amount you used at the height of your substance use could result in overdose or death.
Family members and loved ones must be cognizant of the signs of relapse, so if their loved one appears to be heading down a dangerous path, they can intervene immediately.
The Stages of Relapse
Relapse is like addiction in that it doesn’t just happen. It’s a process that comprises three phases:
Emotional relapse is typically the first phase of relapse because it occurs before someone in recovery even considers using again. This phase often starts with negative emotional responses like moodiness, anger and anxiousness. A person might even start to experience disruptions to their sleeping or eating habits or stop engaging with their support systems.
This stage of relapse occurs before a person is aware that they are in danger of relapse. Intervening now before they enter the mental phase can prevent the issue from becoming a reality.
Mental relapse is the second stage of relapse. It’s an internal, counterintuitive struggle: one part of a person wants to stay committed and engaged in long-term recovery, and the other part wants to go back to using. Despite going through treatment, the desire to use may never go away, which is why addiction is considered a chronic condition.
During this phase, a person might have thoughts about using, which can be very difficult to overcome. When someone in recovery has decided to use, it’s usually only a matter of time before they do.
The physical stage is what many think of when they hear the word “relapse.” After mental relapse has occurred, physical relapse usually isn’t far behind. During physical relapse, a person uses the substance, breaking their sobriety.
Using a substance even one time can lead to intense cravings, and it significantly increases the risk of entering back into a life of substance abuse. After physical relapse occurs, it’s critical to get a person back into treatment as soon as possible.
Warning Signs of Relapse
Know what warning signs to look for is the best way to prevent relapse. One of the most common signs is if the person is romanticizing substance use. They may reflect on their early days of active addiction positively, which can be a trigger that gets them thinking about using again. Or, perhaps they’ve gone back to spending time with substance-using friends and acquaintances.
Other warning signs of relapse encompass sudden changes in the way a person is acting, such as:
- Increased isolation.
- Avoidance of their support system, group meetings, therapy, etc.
- Loss of interest in hobbies and the things they enjoy doing.
- Exhaustion or low energy.
- Changes in sleep patterns and eating habits.
However, the most obvious warning sign of relapse is if they openly doubt the effectiveness of the recovery process. If a person is talking badly about the process or speaking negatively about recovery, it’s a sign that they are at high risk of relapse.
Swift action is the best way to prevent a relapse or address one that has already occurred. Although it isn’t a sign of failure, it’s a serious thing that presents a significant risk of falling back into destructive patterns.
At Segue Recovery Support, our Peer Recovery Support Specialists are trained and certified to recognize the signs of relapse and take action. Continued support and guidance are vital to long-lasting recovery, and we can help you get there–and stay there. For more information about our services, contact us at 1-833-485-0789.