Relapse in Recovery

Addiction is like any chronic health disorder. Although it can be treated and managed successfully, it cannot be cured. That means that you can experience a relapse after you have gotten sober. In fact, relapse is part of recovery for many people. Although relapsing can be dangerous, it can also help you attune to the most effective type of treatment for your needs.


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What Is a Relapse in Recovery?

In general medical terms, relapsing indicates that your symptoms have returned after improving for a period of time. A relapse in recovery means that you have started engaging in some of your addictive behaviors after you have gotten sober.

A relapse in recovery can look different for everyone. Someone who is trying to modify their addictive behavior without quitting cold turkey might relapse when their behavior becomes excessive or unhealthy. On the other hand, someone who has cut out all substances that are not medically indicate might experience a relapse if they binge on a substance or start using regularly again.

It’s important to talk with your counselor or therapist about what a relapse would look like for you. Bringing awareness to the possibility allows you to monitor yourself for signs of a relapse in recovery and seek support if you’re heading into dangerous territory.

A Relapse in Recovery Is Not a Failure

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the relapse rate for someone in recovery is 40% to 60%. A relapse in recovery is considered part of the process of getting and staying clean. In fact, many individuals will relapse several times before they achieve long-term recovery.

That may seem discouraging. After all, why would you work so hard on your recovery if you expect to relapse? Experts say that you should view relapse in recovery as an indicator that something needs to change. Perhaps you need to seek different treatment methods or a different timeline for staying in rehab. A relapse gives you insight into your behavioral patterns. It helps you learn what to look for and what to avoid when it comes to staying clean and pursuing a fulfilling life.

Stages of Relapse

Although a relapse in recovery may seem like it comes out of nowhere, it usually follows a distinct pattern. Most people go through three stages of relapse.

Emotional Relapse

The emotional states associated with addiction are complex. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to combat intense emotions. However, those overwhelming feelings don’t just go away when you stop using.

You’ll learn strategies for coping with those emotions in an addiction treatment program. But you may experience periods of emotional upheaval, during which you can’t seem to access those constructive strategies. You might also fall into the same unhealthy emotional patterns that you experienced during active addiction, such as the following:

  • Keeping your emotions hidden from yourself and others
  • Isolating yourself from loved ones
  • Failing to participate in support groups
  • Depression and anxiety make you feel stuck and unmotivated
  • Trouble controlling your anger
  • Mood swings
  • Breaking from routine
  • Discomfort in your skin
  • Denial

You’re not usually using during an emotional relapse in recovery. However, many people fail to seek help during this stage. If you are resisting assistance or stopping your routines because you are having difficulty controlling your emotions, you should talk about your struggles with a mental health professional.

Addressing the relapse at this stage often involves expressing your emotions in a healthy manner. Self-care is also important. Giving yourself the emotional, physical and mental nourishment that you need can keep you focused on recovery.

Mental Relapse

Once you’re in the mental relapse stage, your risk of continuing to physical relapse is high. During mental relapse, you’re wrestling with your emotions and your thoughts. Logically, you know that returning to drugs isn’t going to help you. However, your mind plays tricks on you, telling you that you can use again without falling off the deep end.

Some signs that you are in the mental relapse stage include:

  • Fantasizing about using again
  • Having the urge to use drugs and alcohol
  • Thinking about people and situations associated with your drug use
  • Negotiating with yourself, such as telling yourself that you can go to parties with your old friends but abstain from using
  • Planning ways to use in moderation

During the mental relapse stage, you’ll often tell yourself that you can access moderation and control. This time, it will be different. However, addiction preys on these confusing feelings. If you have been trapped in the cycle before, it’s likely that you will become trapped again. Working with a professional to look at the truth of the matter can prevent you from relapsing at this stage.

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse involves drinking or using drugs again. This stage arises when you don’t have an awareness of the previous stages. It can also happen when you ignore or deny the warning signs that are present in the other stages.

Lapse vs Relapse

Using drugs again doesn’t always mean that you are in the physical relapse stage. If you impulsively had a couple of drinks at a party, you may not be entering a full relapse in recovery. This is especially true if you haven’t gone through the relapse stages. However, a lapse can be a sign that a full relapse is on the horizon. It’s a clear indicator that you should seek or modify your treatment now so that you can get back on the right track.

The Dangers of Physical Relapse in Recovery

When you clear the drugs from your system, your body gets used to a new way of operating. It rebalances itself and learns to stay in balance without the influence of drugs or alcohol. In many cases, your body will be more sensitive to the drug if you use it again. The amount that you were taking when you had a high tolerance could be too much now. Reaching the physical relapse stage puts you in danger of overdosing.

Relapse Prevention and Treatment

While relapse prevention is possible and effective, it’s not a guarantee that you will avoid using again. Therefore, it’s important to stay in a structured recovery program even after you have quit using drugs. At Burning Tree West, we offer a wide range of programs in a compassionate, non-judgmental environment so that you have the best chances of sustaining a long-term recovery.


Get Help Now

Call our admissions specialists who can help you find the best treatment center for your needs. If you need help with drug abuse or addiction recovery, we can help you.

(888) 530-9424