What Is Relapse?
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
— Corinthians 10:13
A relapse is defined as a reappearance of disease after remission or recovery. Those struggling with addiction, which is classified as a chronic disease, are especially prone to periods of relapse during the recovery process. This is because certain relapse triggers and other risk factors can put recovering addicts at risk of returning to their substance abuse habits. Relapses are common in addiction recovery, but the good news is that they can be avoided. By looking out for the warning signs, you and your support system can determine your potential for a drug or alcohol relapse and act accordingly by creating what is called a relapse prevention plan.
The Three Stages of Relapse
Before you can properly build a relapse prevention plan, it’s important to understand just how complex addiction relapse is. Contrary to popular belief, a relapse is not something that happens overnight— especially in cases of addiction recovery. Unlike with most other diseases, an addiction relapse goes beyond a regression in only physical health. In fact, addiction relapse can be broken down into three distinct stages: emotional, mental and then physical.
This is the first stage of addiction relapse. During this stage, you don’t actually consider using drugs or alcohol again. You may not even recognize that you’re in the midst of emotional relapse; you can still be devoted to gaining sobriety even during this stage. But what qualifies this stage as part of addiction relapse isn’t your intent to abuse substances; it’s your disregard for your emotional health during recovery. It can be challenging for some, but a very important part of the recovery process is taking better care of yourself, and not just physically. Failing to give the necessary attention to your emotional health can trigger a full relapse if it continues into the mental relapse stage.
Emotional relapse can be relatively easy to identify if you know what to look for. The more common warning signs include:
- Bottling up your emotions (good or bad)
- Isolating yourself from others you care about
- Failing to attend or talk during recovery meetings
- Focusing all your energy on others and their problems
Transitioning into mental relapse is to be expected if you don’t tend to your emotional health during addiction recovery, especially in the early stages. By failing to take proper care of yourself, you’ll most likely start to feel restless and unhappy. The natural response to these feelings, of course, is to think about things that once made you happy— like substance abuse and the “good times” attached to it.
This stage of addiction relapse is characterized by the glorification of your past substance abuse. In a mental relapse, you’d be thinking fondly of your old habits, knowing full well that returning to them would hurt you and your health. This duality in how you think about your substance abuse problem could easily lead to a physical relapse if left unaddressed. Some warning signs of mental relapse include:
- Thinking about using again
- Making a plan to use again
- Cravings for your substance of choice
- Cravings for other addictive substances
- Minimizing the consequences of past substance abuse
- Reminiscing about people, places and things connected to your past substance abuse
Once you become comfortable with even just the idea of abusing substances again, you’re at a much higher risk of delving into stage three: physical relapse.
Acting on the impulse to abuse substances again is what defines physical relapse. Even if you only use once and realize you made a mistake, it’s still a physical relapse. The best thing you can do in the face of a physical relapse is to focus on moving forward in your recovery and make adjustments to your relapse prevention plan.
Moving Forward After a Physical Relapse
Going through an addiction relapse is an unfortunate situation for any addict in recovery. It’s understandable that you might be feeling a lot of clashing emotions like shame, anger, guilt, frustration, anxiety and even depression. However, it’s important that you move forward for the sake of your recovery. Before you revise your relapse treatment plan, there are several steps you can take to get yourself back on a good track.
Let Yourself Feel
“Get it all out” is good advice for a reason. Accepting that you made a mistake and acknowledging the feelings that come with it is the best thing you can do after a physical relapse. Feeling things like guilt, shame, and frustration is not enjoyable by any means, but it’s necessary to process these feelings so you can better understand what led you to relapse. Continuing to bury your feelings will only put you at risk of relapsing again. Allowing yourself to feel— even if it feels vulnerable to do it— is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being upset by your relapse just shows that you care about your recovery. God will know that. So, sit down, have a good cry, pray, then push forward.
Open Up About It
Once you’ve come to terms with your relapse, the next thing you should do is open up. You can do this by praying to God a little more often and also by making the effort to talk through the relapse with someone who supports you. This can be a family member, a friend, your sponsor or your support group. Once you’re comfortable, discuss the details of your relapse, the possible reasons behind it, your triggers, what you’ve done since, and what you can do to adjust your relapse prevention plan to avoid another relapse. Remember, God and your loved ones will support you, so don’t be afraid to go to them for help.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Spending time alone immediately after a relapse will only make things worse. Instead, spend time with others who care about you and your sobriety. Even if you’re not comfortable opening up about your relapse yet, it’s best to surround yourself with the positive energy of others. Spending too much time alone and trapped in your own thoughts can lead to another relapse.
Relapsing DOES NOT Mean You’ve Failed
Most people in early recovery view relapse as the end of the world. However, this is not the case at all. Relapse is actually a very common part of addiction recovery from. In fact, it’s estimated that 40-60% of addicts will relapse at least once during their recovery. This may seem like a scary statistic, but keep in mind that relapse happens in three stages, only one of which ends in substance abuse.
If you have experienced a relapse of any kind during your addiction recovery, it does not mean that you’ve failed God, yourself or anyone else. He, your sober friends, your support group and your sponsor will not think of it as a failure. In fact, your relapse will likely be addressed as a learning experience.
Addiction recovery is still possible after a relapse. By picking yourself up, turning to God and your loved ones for support, and moving forward with a new relapse prevention plan, you can forge your path to sobriety feeling stronger than ever.
Build Your Own Relapse Prevention Plan with Help at Road to Freedom
Having a relapse prevention plan is essential to your recovery from addiction. By following the steps of your customized plan, you’ll be able to minimize the damage left behind by an addiction relapse. Better yet, you can take action before the third stage of relapse and reduce your risk of succumbing to further substance abuse. At Road to Recovery, we ensure that all of our patients are equipped with a relapse prevention plan that is tailored to their individual needs. If you need to build or revise a relapse prevention plan for yourself, we are here to help. Call us at (844) 402-3605 for more information.