What is Relapse?
Relapse is defined as the recurrence of a disease – in this case, the disease of addiction – after a time of marked improvement. In this context, it refers to a return to drug use after a period of sustained sobriety. This is normal and happens to a great number of people during the recovery process. Above all else, relapse is not a moral failing. It’s a sign that treatment needs to be more accurately tailored to a client’s needs.
It’s also important to understand that this is a process, not a single event. Often broken down into stages, the emotional precursors to relapse can happen weeks or months before actually using drugs or alcohol again. The three main stages to be aware of are emotional, mental, and physical relapse.
When in a period of emotional relapse, your feelings and behaviors are pushing you to use, even though it’s not something that you’re actively considering at that point in time. Stressful life events or other factors may be creating pressure in your day-to-day life. You feel anxious and irritable; you may experience a vast spectrum of mood swings. At this stage, it’s easy to isolate yourself and refuse to ask for help. As your quality of life suffers – sleep and diet fall by the wayside – you stop attending AA or NA meetings.
After this point, you progress to mental relapse. You’ve begun to idly consider using again in passing, but another part of you doesn’t want to. Gradually, thoughts of people, places, and things associated with drugs and alcohol come to mind more often. You glamorize past use, fantasize about it, and begin to spend time with old using friends. The pull of addiction strengthens, and it becomes more and more difficult to resist.
If nothing has been done, the final stage of the process will be physical relapse. You go to a bar or call your old dealer and will need to begin rebuilding your recovery. Luckily, this entire series of events is completely avoidable. Relapse is something that can be guarded against if the appropriate steps are taken.
Most Common Addiction Relapse Triggers
Certain factors can impact your recovery and push you towards unhealthy choices. These can occur at all stages of recovery, and you must be aware of them as you work on building your new life.
- Inadequate self-care (high stress levels, poor sleep, unhealthy diet)
- People (spending time with those you used with)
- Places (where you bought or used drugs)
- Things (items that remind you of those times)
- Discomfort and emotions (HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
- Isolation (rumination and loneliness)
- Pride and overconfidence (pushing your limits unhealthily)
- Withdrawal symptoms (anxiety or nausea)
- Post-acute withdrawal (irritability, mood swings, low quality sleep)
While relapse is considered common in the realm of recovery, it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. You’ve worked hard to maintain your sobriety, and the danger of overdosing is real – if tolerance has decreased over time, your previous, “normal” dosages can be fatal. At Makana Path, we believe that relapse is an indicator that treatment needs to be further modified to meet a client’s needs.
Makana Path is home to an Intensive Healing Program that addresses all potential stressors simultaneously. We understand that prevention is so much more complicated than merely learning to say “no.” Through a careful combination of individual and group therapy, 12-step education, physical exercise, and healthy meal prep, we attend to the mental and physical issues known to trigger relapse. We’ll work with you to establish healthy habits that will serve as a source of strength in times of struggle.
The fact is, relapse occurs over time and offers plenty of warning signs. By creating a comprehensive understanding of your disease – and the key indicators of its recurrence – you can develop a set of coping mechanisms that protect your sobriety for years to come.
How to Prevent Relapse
Your recovery is the most important thing to consider when times are hard. One of the easiest ways to stave off relapse is by practicing intentional, consistent self-care and personal awareness. This is especially true with respect to emotional relapse, as outlined above. By noticing that you’re beginning to isolate yourself, or that you haven’t been getting enough sleep, you can quickly adjust your lifestyle and avoid the urge to use.
When cravings begin to take hold, think beyond the glamorized version of using in your head and instead consider the consequences of that action. Hold yourself accountable by reaching out to someone and tell them about how you’re feeling. This could be a parent, spouse, friend, family member, sponsor, or a professional from your treatment center or aftercare program. As long as you’re talking about how you feel openly, you’ll be in a much better position to prevent relapse.
There are small steps you can take day to day in order to protect yourself from these feelings altogether. Focus on getting enough sleep, attending meetings, and distracting yourself with fun activities. Boredom is one of the primary drivers of relapse, so you should do your best to avoid it at all costs.
Recover with Us
Relapse is part of recovery, but it is fully preventable. Makana Path’s intensive programming instills lifelong practices that will empower our clients to maintain lasting sobriety. If you or a loved one would benefit from relapse-focused recovery, contact one of our team members at 866-905-4550.