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Relapse Prevention

What is a Relapse?

An alcohol or drug relapse is the recurrence of symptoms of the disease after a period of short or long term recovery. Like any chronic disease, drug & alcohol addiction are subject to periods of remission and relapse. When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, many consider a lack of total abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol to be a relapse. During the recovery process, individuals may be exposed to certain triggers and other risk factors that increase the risk of returning to active addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

While relapses can happen and are common, they are not inevitable. Following drug relapse, taking action early and employing relapse prevention steps can reduce the likelihood of another relapse and minimize the intensity of a relapse.

What Are The Stages of a Relapse?

Relapse is a process, not something that happens as a single event, and resuming drug or alcohol use is usually the last in a series of indicators. The process of a relapse can be broken down into three phases:

  1. Emotional Relapse
  2. Mental Relapse
  3. Physical Relapse

Emotional relapse is typically the first sign or stage of a relapse. Individuals in recovery begin to experience negative or “triggering” emotions like anger, depression, anxiety or fear and may begin experiencing erratic eating or sleeping habits. These initial warning signs are critical to recognize as early and as quickly as possible. Intervention at this time can prevent these issues  from escalating to drug or alcohol use.

Mental relapse often occurs second. This is a time of internal struggle, the individual may feel like there are two warring sides for someone in early recovery: the part of them that wants to remain in recovery vs. the part of them that continues to crave the drug or romanticize the days of using or drinking. There is likely times where a person in recovery will want to use drugs or alcohol – this is part of why addiction is a chronic disease, there is no cure. At the stage of mental relapse, the thought of using drugs or alcohol progresses and if no intervention occurs, no change is made, the person may use again despite their intention to remain abstinent.

The physical relapse stage is the one which most commonly comes to mind when someone thinks of the term relapse. Physical relapse is when someone in recovery uses drugs or alcohol, breaking their period of abstinence. At this point, individual is struggling with active use or even addiction and may have an extremely difficult time controlling the amount they use or stopping their use. Using one time may trigger difficult cravings for more and at this point – getting someone back into inpatient or outpatient treatment and back on the road to recovery is critical

What Are The Warning Signs of a Relapse?

The warning signs of a relapse can often occur over a prolonged period of time and involve a process with many warning signs. Many people consider any return to drugs and/or alcohol a relapse. While substance use is the final step in a relapse, it is not the only thing to look for. In addition to substance use, signs of an active or impending relapse from drugs or alcohol can involve:

  • Compulsive or Risky Behavior
  • Destructive Thoughts
  • Neglecting Coping Skills
  • Refusal to Engage in or Withdrawal from Healthy Habits
  • Return to Unhealthy Behaviors and Environments (People, Places & Things)
  • Dishonesty or Deception
  • Mood Swings
  • Romanticizing Drug or Alcohol Use
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation/Withdrawal from Social or Group Activities

Recognizing and addressing the warning signs before a relapse happens is the most effective way to prevent one from occurring. One warning sign of relapse is when individuals in recovery begin to romanticize drug use or relive the days of their drinking and using, looking back on them in a favorable light. A person in recovery may begin to think that they can use again successfully or without falling back into full blown addiction and associated behaviors. If an individual begins to talk about his or her ability to use successfully again, it is often a sign that a relapse is looming.

If you or a loved one are struggling after a relapse or at-risk for a potential relapse, call us today at 1-800-RECOVERY. Our Care Advocates are standing by, ready to help get you back on track

All Recovery Centers of America sites work with patients who are experiencing a relapse in order to get them back on the path to recovery for the long-term.  At Recovery Centers of America at Devon, the PRISE (‘Promoting Recovery through Intensive Support and Education’) program is a three-pronged therapeutic, evidence-based approach specifically created to reconnect patients for whom recovery has been elusive.

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