Stages of Relapse
Relapse can be broken down into three distinct phases: emotional relapse, mental relapse and physical relapse. At Pine Tree Recovery Center we teach our clients what steps to take during each individual stage of the relapse process so that they can successfully reverse a potential return to substance use before it is too late.
1. Emotional Relapse:
When a person enters into the emotional relapse phase they are not thinking about using. They might start neglecting their personal recovery program and skip recovery meetings, stop calling their sponsor or stop meeting with their individual therapist. These changes lead to a slip into old behavioral patterns. Emotional relapse often looks like social isolation, sleeping longer hours than normal, failing to meet personal obligations and acting uncharacteristically in other ways. If relapse is caught during this stage it is relatively easy to reverse the backslide with a conscious effort to recommit to recovery.
2. Mental Relapse:
If emotional relapse goes unaddressed for a prolonged period of time a person will eventually slip into mental relapse. During this stage they start to consider picking up their substance of choice. They might romanticize past substance use, ignore past consequences entirely and bargain with themselves, saying things like, “If I only drink on the weekends it will be fine,” or, “I’ll just use one time and go to a meeting tomorrow.” Reaching out to a sober support is extremely important during this time period. If a person fails to ask for help and openly share the thoughts they are having, there is a good chance they will progress to physical relapse.
3. Physical Relapse:
During this stage of the process the person physically picks up and uses the chemical substance. Once a drink or drug has been used, it sets off intense physical cravings. The compulsion to keep using and drinking can become very strong, very quickly. Picking up a drink or a drug after a period of sobriety is kind of like stepping into quick sand. It is extremely important to return to recovery as quickly as possible before the addiction has a chance to gain progressively more strength. If a relapse is caught early on and the person immediately employs the coping mechanisms they learned in treatment, they can return to sobriety and continue along the road to recovery the very next day. It is far easier, however, to reverse a relapse in the emotional and mental phases than it is once a physical relapse has occurred.