What Is Drug Abuse Relapse?

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Are you on the road to recovery from an addiction? As we’re sure you’ve heard many times before, addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. And, you may sometimes have slip-ups along your journey. This is referred to as relapsing. But, what is relapse, exactly?

And, what can you do to recover from it? Check out this guide to discover everything you need to know about drug relapse. 

What is Relapse? 

First things first, what exactly is a drug relapse?

A relapse is when a person resumes the use of drugs or alcohol after a period of abstinence, often involving substance abuse treatment.

A relapse would be if you started drinking again after deciding to stop drinking, and spending some time consciously trying to stay sober. Relapse is quite common, but is by no means a necessary part of the path to long-term recovery.

Relapse Stages 

It’s important to understand that a relapse typically happens in stages. Very rarely does someone just pick up a drink or a drug out of the blue and relapse without any thought. Knowing the stages of relapse can help you put a halt to things before they get out of control. 

Here are the stages of relapse:

1. Emotional Relapse 

During the emotional relapse phase, you’ll typically re-experience the emotions that you used to feel when you were using. You may not be actively thinking about using your drug of choice, but you’re likely heading toward the familiar patterns of addiction. 

During an emotional relapse, people are usually in denial, irritable, and angry. People also tend to isolate themselves from friends and family members during this phase. 

2. Mental Relapse 

During this phase, a person is actively thinking about using drugs or alcohol again. Oftentimes, the person will attempt to rationalize their use. They may think:

  • “It’s just one drink, what’s the big deal?”
  • “I’ve been sober for a long time, so it won’t affect me like it used to”
  • “It’s a special occasion”
  • “My lifestyle has changed and I’m more responsible than I was before”

Bargaining and internal conflict are common during the mental relapse phase. 

3. Physical Relapse 

The final stage of relapse is physical relapse. This is when someone uses their drug of choice. 

A relapse can last anywhere from one night, to a few days, to years.

Relapse Triggers 

A relapse very rarely occurs out of the blue. Almost always, there is something that triggers the relapse. Understanding these triggers can help you prevent a relapse from happening in the first place, as you’ll be more aware of the situations that you need to avoid. 

Common relapse triggers include:

  • Being around friends or family members who drink or use your drug of choice
  • Stressful life situations
  • Being in a stressful environment, such as a hospital
  • Major life changes
  • Relationship issues
  • Parties or social gatherings where drugs or alcohol are present
  • Feelings of boredom

It’s important to understand that everyone has different relapse triggers. Some people have absolutely no issue being in social situations where alcohol is present, while others may find it nearly intolerable. 

It’s important to take some time to understand what your triggers are so you can set up a plan to either avoid them or deal with them. 

How to Prevent a Relapse 

Most often, relapses occur within the first year of recovery, but they can occur at any point in an individual’s recovery journey, particularly in times of significant stress. 

As we just mentioned, identifying and avoiding your triggers is one way to prevent a relapse from happening. Here are some other things you can do:

  • Follow an aftercare treatment plan (Most residential treatment programs will help you set one up)
  • Participate in a 12-step program (There are 12-step meetings in nearly every city)
  • Build a strong support system (Surround yourself with people who respect your sobriety and are fine avoiding substances around you)
  • Change your social network to avoid being around addicts who aren’t in recovery
  • Attend sober social activities
  • Partake in individual therapy
  • If boredom is an issue for you, partake in a new hobby
  • Attend an outpatient program
  • Avoid bars and nightclubs
  • Make lifestyle changes that aid in your recovery

You also want to make sure you develop coping mechanisms that help you deal with stress and difficult emotions that can lead to a relapse. Healthy coping mechanisms may include:

  • Journaling
  • Distracting yourself with a healthy hobby
  • Calling up your sponsor
  • Reminding yourself of the negative consequences of relapse
  • Engaging in positive self-talk

As you can see, there’s a lot that you can do to prevent a relapse from happening. 

Have a Plan in Place In Case You Do Relapse 

It’s important to understand that a relapse is a setback, but it doesn’t erase all of the hard work you’ve done so far. While you should take your relapse seriously, beating yourself up over it won’t do you any good. 

Whether you’re 10 days into your sobriety journey or 10 years in, you should have a plan in place in case of a relapse. This plan should include:

  • Examining what led to the relapse
  • Deciding if it was an isolated situation or if you need treatment
  • Investing in counseling services
  • Forming new coping mechanisms to make another relapse less likely
  • Alerting your support system of your relapse

Once you’ve dealt with the relapse, the best thing you can do is pick yourself up and move on. 

Time to Start Your Journey 

Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is relapse”, you’ll be better equipped for your journey to sobriety. 

If you are just beginning your recovery journey and are searching for a treatment center, contact us today. We’ll discuss how our treatment center can help you reach your sobriety goals.