Understanding Relapse

What is Relapse?

Relapse is an addict’s return to addictive behavior after a period of abstinence. This occurs because repeated drug use is known to cause changes in the brain that affect a person’s ability to resist cravings and exercise self-control. As a hallmark of addiction, relapse typically occurs once or even several times and has been included as a stage in the stage-of-change model. Relapse is not a sign of failure, and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and working to find recovery, understanding relapse is crucial.

Emotional Relapse

Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms is typically the first sign of the first stage of relapse. Emotional relapse, or stage one, includes anxiety, nausea, physical weakness, irritability, and mood swings. Emotional occurs when your emotions and behaviors are setting you up for relapse in the future. Generally, behavioral changes like missing meetings or avoiding socialization or doing things you once loved is a signifier of relapse. It’s also important to note that a family member has experienced changes in their sleeping, eating, and exercise habits as this could be a sign of abandoning the routine that they developed in early sobriety.

Mental Relapse

During the mental relapse process, there is a war going on in your mind. Generally, a part of you wants to use while the other does not. In this phase, you lose judgment. You or a loved one might also find yourself fantasizing about using or thinking about relapsing, or lying and glamorizing your past use. As this progresses, the pull of addiction and relapse gets stronger and more intense. Here, you experience pride and overconfidence or a return to denial — you don’t have a problem with drugs or alcohol, it’s all behind you.

Physical Relapse

Mental relapse quickly progresses to physical relapse. This is the final stage of relapse and at this point, some people only use once and realize their mistake or they continue using for months until something snaps them back to reality. It’s important to remember that relapse is a natural part of the cycle. Don’t let it discourage you from achieving sobriety. Relapse is a part of the recovery process. Knowing this tends to lead to success in the long run. Similarly, it help addicts overcome their addictions. At Tigger House, we seek to help people through all stages of their recovery process and to spread awareness, fight addiction, and save lives by means of education.

Statistics around relapse are discouraging. Research has found that about ⅔ of individuals in recovery relapse within weeks to months of beginning addiction treatment. These numbers are due to the lack of long-term drug relapse prevention programs. They are also due to the lack of understanding of addiction as a mental illness. Well developed drug relapse prevention programs work directly with addicts to identify triggers and prevent and manage relapse reoccurrence. We must first understand relapse to begin developing long term relapse prevention plans.