Contrary to popular belief, relapse isn’t a single moment of crisis that burst into the life of an unsuspecting person in recovery. Relapse is a process that begins in the subconscious and, despite your best efforts and intentions, can spread to your mind and your behavior if you’re not careful to keep aware of the signs.
Stay informed by learning about the stages of behavior and be sure to fight relapse the best way possible: be consistently open and communicative with your support network, fight any urges to isolate or slip into a depressive funk, and reach out the moment you suspect you might need help.
The roots of addiction lie in emotional disturbance. Before you go back to drinking or using, your brain must somehow find a reason to overcome the safeguards you’ve put in place as part of your recovery. This often happens under the radar of your consciousness. During this first stage, you haven’t even begun to think about using again.
Emotional relapse comes in the form of strong negative feelings like anxiety, depression, and anger. A major sign of emotional relapse is if a person begins to become isolated and withdrawn, especially if they seem to be slowly pulling away from recovery groups, 12-Step meetings, therapy sessions, or family visits. It can also include having difficulty sleeping, irregular eating habits, and other forms of behavior that indicate that a person is caring less about their wellbeing.
Emotional relapse relies heavily on denial of progress. A person in recovery may be so staunchly determined to refuse to relapse that they won’t acknowledge the warning signs accumulating in their behavior until it’s too late.
Note that many of the symptoms of emotional relapse overlap with those of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). If you’ve recently gone through acute withdrawal, be especially mindful of your emotional state. Practice intentional acts of self-care and compassion and find emotional outlets. Leaning heavily on your support system is key here–don’t let yourself become isolated.
The second stage of relapse begins when your mind starts actively seesawing between the desire to drink or use and the desire to hold fast to your sobriety. Once you’ve built up the discomfort and negative emotions in the first stage of relapse, your mind will naturally begin to remember the pleasures associated with drinking or using. One of the most telling signs of mental relapse is when a person begins to think fondly of their old habits, glorifying their past vices, and selectively remembering only the fun parts of their addiction.
Mental relapse is when you begin to think like you used to think. You start experiencing acute cravings, thinking about giving in to temptation and may even plan to start using again. Such behavior will, of course, mean that you must begin to lie to your friends, family, and support system about your attitude towards your sobriety–after all, you wouldn’t want them to think anything was amiss. This only further drives a wedge between you and your most powerful sources of help. By the time you start remembering the importance of being honest with your support network and peers, you may be too deeply entrenched in shame and guilt for having walked down the path of relapse and might find it easier to simply not tell them anything, leaving yourself free and unaccountable to slip further down the slope.
It’s an insidious progression and you want to be aware of it as soon as it begins. Try to be self-aware. Write down your thoughts or share them with someone in your support network who can talk you through them. Think about the long-term consequences of the choices you’re considering. It’s not too late to turn it around–this is a dangerous position to be in and you want to get a hold of yourself immediately.
The final stage of relapse is the one that most people think of when they hear the word: the return to using drugs or alcohol. It’s not uncommon for a person’s first instance of physical relapse to come in the form of a minor indulgence–a single beer at a party, a single hit with an old friend. Even if the first time you physically relapse is “just a slip-up,” you’ve laid the groundwork for easing back into your old vices. Once you’ve reached this point, unless you make some serious, immediate changes, it’s more than likely that you’ll be back in the habit before you know it.
Get Help Now
If you start to think you might have a problem, trust your gut. Look at your behavior objectively and consider how it looks compared to how you were acting when you were freshly determined to make progress in recovery. Follow your trains of thought to their logical conclusions, identify your state of mind, and take swift action to get help. It is never too early to reach out to your sponsor, peers, family, or friends in this situation–they’re there to help you stay on track.
No matter where you are in your journey of recovery, having a strong, dependable support system is a critical component of your success. Even the most determined among us can fall susceptible to the temptations of relapse. Like with any other chronic illness, relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you’re untreatable; what it means is that you must make changes in your approach as soon as possible. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we provide a safe, focused environment designed to pull you out of addiction and get you back on the road to sobriety. We work with you on emotional, mental, and physical fronts to make sure that your recovery is solid and you’re tapped into every resource available to you. Don’t go it alone. Whether this is your first time getting sober or your hundredth, you are capable of lasting, healthy change that leads to a promising future. Call 866-DETOX-25 to learn more.