When you’re in recovery for a drug or alcohol addiction, there’s always a looming threat of relapse. In some therapeutic circles it’s almost taboo to talk about relapse. Your friends and family may feel uncomfortable saying the word, as if they could trigger it happening. When you’re working towards sobriety there’s no reason to be superstitious and avoid the topic of relapse. In fact, it’s much more beneficial to talk about the reality of the ups and downs of addiction. The reality is that substance use recovery is never a simple or easy road, and preparing for hard times can serve to save your recovery in the long haul.In this article we’ll broach this important topic to share the phases and warning signs of relapse so you can stay on guard and protect the valuable progress you’ve made towards a lifetime of freedom.Understanding relapseIn treatment settings and in casual usage, relapse can mean different things. Generally, relapse refers to a person who has committed to being sober falters and returns to drug or alcohol use. While this is one definition of relapse, there are several other occasions where relapse can occur.The term relapse is also commonly used in mental health settings. For example, someone who is struggling to overcome binge eating disorder may maintain a balanced eating schedule for several weeks and then relapse, returning to a pattern of binging after a stressful week at work. Relapses in recovery may refer to a setback due to a mental health disorder.A relapse could also be a negative behavioral change, like regressing on financial goals or engaging in codependent relational behaviors. Regardless of which type of relapse occurs, there are noticeable phases that tend to follow in a specific pattern.Phases of relapseThe American Addiction Centers breaks down a typical relapse into three stages: emotional, mental and physical. These phases may happen distinctly or simultaneously, yet each will impact the other stages. When these different dimensions of a person are all under stress, a relapse is sure to be near.The emotional phase of relapse will be filled with warning signs like sadness, anger, loneliness, frustration, guilt and similar feelings. Whether emotions crop up abruptly or slowly over time, being the master of your emotions can help you conquer these triggers.The mental phase of relapse is when you begin to consider relapse as a refuge for emotional difficulties or physical cravings. At this stage, you’re able to fight off addiction relapse warning signs, but the urge surfaces again. This part of the process is a hard battle, and brings additional emotional challenges.The physical phase of relapse happens when a person consumes drugs or alcohol, breaking a streak of sobriety. This stage is what most people consider relapse because it’s an easily identifiable event, rather than a slow build or a mental health or behavior change, which is harder to codify.Signs of relapseIf the phases of relapse are too abstract to easily pin point in yourself or a loved one, you may be interested in learning about addiction relapse warning signs. Triggers to relapse are as unique as the individuals who experience them. However, there are some universal categories of relapse warning signs that you can be on the lookout for.
An increase in stress: dealing with an overwhelming number of tasks at work, handling too many duties at home or having family drama that weighs on you can all pile up and result in emotional turmoil. Even those who are accustomed to regular stress in life may have to take a step back to protect their sobriety against stress.
Depression: a high rate of co-occurring mental health disorders and substance use disorders means that worsening depression is a very real threat to your progress in recovery. Addressing mental health issues simultaneously to addiction treatment is essential to long-term and sustainable success.
Anxiety: in addition to depression, healing the root causes of anxiety and finding ways to manage daily nerves will be key in preventing relapse.
Isolation: a lack of social opportunities or support can surely stimulate a trigger to relapse and is one of the most commonly cited risk factors for continued substance use disorders.
Social pressure: one of the most common signs of relapse is an increase in people-pleasing behaviors. If your old friends from the bar continue to invite you out to drinks and while at first you said no and now you say you’ll stop in for ten minutes, you might be facing a risky situation.
Sudden changes: behavioral changes, such as abrupt sleep difficulties, changes in daily routine or appetite can be an indicator of building tension. The best way to spot signs of relapse is to keep your intuition involved when it comes to small changes like these.
Noticing relapse signs isn’t an easy task and it requires vigilance, but the alternative of returning to an addiction is much worse.
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