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Identifying the Different Stages of Relapse

Experiencing relapse while in recovery from substance abuse is an experience that affects many people, especially those in early recovery. Relapse is often a gradual process that can sneak up on you when you are not expecting it. For this reason, it is important to be able to recognize the stages of relapse. This way, you can seek help as soon as possible and prevent any impulsivity from harming your recovery process. 

If you do experience relapse, it doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that long-term sobriety is not something that you can achieve. You may simply need to adjust your treatment plan, rediscover your purpose for getting sober, and recommit to your recovery journey. At Sage Recovery, we believe that through professional guidance and preventative measures, future relapse can be avoided. We also believe that it is never too late to get back on track with your recovery. 

The Three Stages of Relapse

Many people view relapse as a one-time “slip-up” or as a major event that can happen in an instant. In reality, relapse is more of a gradual process that happens over time. It occurs as a three-stage process, characterized by emotional and mental warning signs that indicate an increased risk for physical relapse. Thus, the more familiar you are with recognizing the early stages of relapse, the better equipped you will be to avoid a physical relapse. 

The three stages of relapse include emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse. In the beginning, the signs that you could be experiencing relapse are often very subtle; however, they can become more prominent over time. It is best to reach out to help when you first start experiencing these signs and symptoms rather than wait until they progress further. 

#1. Emotional Relapse

The first stage of relapse is emotional, and it is often the hardest to recognize. During this stage, you might not be thinking about turning back to substance use at all. Similarly, you might not feel that you are in any danger of relapse at all. However, you might be doing certain things that could set you up for a possible relapse in the future. 

During this stage of relapse, you might be feeling confident enough in your recovery that you don’t feel like you need to keep up with the same treatment plan you’ve been on since you got sober. For example, maybe you have started to skip your 12-step support group meetings or maybe you have stopped seeing your therapist. While these things might not seem like a serious issue now, they could become one in the future. This is because it is necessary to continue to keep putting effort into your recovery, even when you feel on top of your sobriety. 

Some other examples of this stage of relapse could include:

#2. Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is the second of the three stages of relapse. During this stage, you are becoming more and more at risk of actually turning back to drug or alcohol use. You might be reminiscing or even fantasizing about times you spent engaging in substance misuse in the past. At this point, you have begun thinking about what it would be like to re-engage in substance use. 

Maybe you haven’t even fully decided that you are going to engage in substance use, but you have thought of various possible ways to obtain drugs or alcohol. You might have even thought about how you could hide the relapse from those close to you. 

Other potential signs of mental relapse include:

#3. Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is the last of the three stages of relapse. During this stage, you have actively used drugs or alcohol. As a result, you may be feeling a lot of guilt or shame. Similarly, maybe you are doubting if you can stick to your recovery moving forward. 

The good news is that you are not alone and it is never too late to get back on track. Make sure to reach out to your treatment provider as soon as possible and tell them about your relapse. They can help identify possible things that triggered this relapse so you know what to avoid in the future. 

If you’ve experienced a recent relapse, our team at Sage Recovery can help you get back on the path to recovery. 

When people experience a relapse while in recovery, they might doubt themselves. They might even think about giving up on their sobriety completely. If this is your situation, know that you are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Relapse can be a part of the journey, but it does not mean that you still can’t enjoy all the many benefits of long-term recovery. If you are struggling, our team at Sage Recovery can help you get back on track. Reach out to a member of our team by calling (512) 306-1394 today. We can answer any questions you may have and help you to determine your best path moving forward.