Exploring the Stages of Relapse: Recognizing Early Warning Signs

stages and warning signs of relapse

Recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol isn’t a final destination–it’s a lifelong journey. The lifelong process of overcoming the physical, behavioral, and emotional aspects of substance abuse requires a lot of patience, understanding, and support.

If you are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, your journey may not always be easy or straightforward. People in recovery often face setbacks, challenges, and obstacles–including a relapse.

A relapse occurs when someone uses drugs or alcohol after a period of sobriety. Relapses can cause people to feel frustrated, discouraged, or wonder if they’ve got what it takes to maintain sobriety for the rest of their lives.

It’s essential to think about a relapse as an obstacle, not the end of your journey. You can learn a lot from a relapse and use this information to move forward with more support or knowledge. Still, it’s essential to take steps to prevent a relapse from occurring. Recognizing the early warning signs of a relapse can help prevent it from derailing your progress.

This article will explore the stages of a relapse, why they happen, and how to get back on track after experiencing one. Reach out to the team at Flourishing Foundations Recovery now to learn more about the early signs of a relapse or our holistic treatment programs.

What Causes a Relapse?

A relapse rarely occurs out of the blue. In most cases, people who experience a relapse can look back at their thoughts, actions, and emotions and pinpoint its origin.

Many factors can lead to relapse, including:

  • New or overwhelming stress
  • Peer pressure
  • Cravings
  • Overwhelming emotions
  • Denial
  • Boredom

During rehab, people learn the skills they need to face challenges and difficult emotions without turning to drugs and alcohol. However, people may face new or overwhelming challenges after rehab or fall back into destructive patterns that lead to relapse.

Recognizing the early warning signs of relapse can help stop it before it occurs. It’s important to learn the stages of relapse and watch out for them as you navigate life in recovery.

Exploring the Stages of Relapse

Addiction experts have identified three distinct stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. Each stage is characterized by noticeable changes in how people think, feel, and behave.

Here is a guide on recognizing the stages of relapse.

Emotional relapse

Emotional relapse is typically the first stage of relapse. People in the midst of an emotional relapse may experience overwhelming, negative emotions that impair their functioning. During an emotional relapse, people may stop using healthy coping skills to manage emotional discomfort.

Some common signs of an emotional relapse include:

  • Isolating
  • Not staying connected to your support system
  • Skipping meals, eating an unhealthy diet, binge eating, or other unhealthy eating habits
  • Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much
  • Neglecting your hygiene and other daily responsibilities
  • Missing therapy or medical appointments

People who do not seek help during an emotional relapse are likely to progress toward the next stage of relapse.

Mental relapse

A mental relapse occurs when people actively consider using addictive substances again. People may fantasize about using drugs and alcohol. They may focus on the fun or pleasurable effects of drugs and alcohol rather than remembering the harm they caused. People may also begin planning how and when they’ll use or drink again.

During a mental relapse, people may have thoughts like:

  • “I already quit once–I could do it again.”
  • “I deserve a break from recovery since I’ve been doing so well.”
  • “I will only drink on vacation/my birthday/on the weekends/etc.”

People experiencing a mental relapse will attempt to justify using drugs or alcohol again. However, this is a warning sign–and often the last one–that a physical relapse is likely.

People having an emotional relapse must lean on their support system–a friend, family member, substance abuse counselor, etc.–and use the tools they’ve used in rehab to get back on track. Without getting help, it’s likely people will progress to the final stage of relapse.

Physical relapse

Physical relapse is the final stage of a relapse. During a physical relapse, people use drugs or alcohol again. A physical relapse also includes all the behaviors leading up to the substance use, including things like driving to the liquor store, calling a dealer, or sitting down at the bar.

Most people in recovery from addiction have at least one relapse before maintaining sobriety for life. A relapse can be discouraging, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the road. People who have a relapse should examine what happened and use this information to gather the support or skills they need to avoid another relapse in the future.

Learn More About Preventing Relapse

If you or someone you love is in recovery from addiction or you want to learn more about the stages of relapse, reach out to the team at Flourishing Foundations Recovery. Our caring specialists can help you recognize the stages of relapse, create a relapse prevention plan, and help you get back on track after one occurs. Contact us now to learn about our comprehensive treatment programs or explore any supportive recovery programs.