Relapse: One Step on the Journey to Recovery

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Relapse and Recovery

“I think my husband relapsed.” “I know my wife is drinking again.” “I’m afraid my boyfriend/girlfriend is in danger of relapsing.” “I’m scared that my son/daughter is going to start drinking again.” Are these thoughts running through your mind? For those in recovery, relapse is always a possibility and is viewed as part of the process. Not only will it be on their minds, their loved ones will be worried about it as well. One component of treatment is learning to recognize the signs and triggers that could lead to an alcohol relapse. Below we will discuss the steps and signs that could be present for those in danger of succumbing to their cravings.

The Stages of Relapse

Relapse is not typically something that happens all at once. There are three stages to relapse. If you or a loved recognizes the signs in these stages, relapse might be prevented.

  1. Emotional
    1. During this first stage, actually drinking or using again isn’t an active thought. They begin to experience emotions, such as anger or anxiousness, that may be leading them towards relapse. Their negative emotional state may lead to lower motivation to work at their recovery. Self-reflection can be helpful to recognize these early warning signs and make changes to avoid moving on to stage 2.
  2. Mental
    1. Stage 2 has a person struggling between wanting to maintain their sobriety and wanting to use again. Actually using becomes an active thought during this stage with fantasizing and glorifying past experiences. People in this stage may begin to think about or even associate with people from their lives in addiction. Actions, thoughts, and cravings can become overwhelming in this stage. Once in this mental state, it is very difficult to avoid stage 3.
  3. Physical
    1. This stage occurs when the addict gives in to their cravings and uses drugs or drinks alcohol. The warning signs of the first two stages were not recognized or were ignored, leading to relapse. If they have entered stage 3, get help right away.

Triggers for Relapse

Addicts are in constant danger of experiencing a trigger that can lead to relapse. During treatment, many explore the triggers that led to substance use to learn how to handle them, should they reoccur. There are many different things that put a person at risk for using or drinking again. Some of the common triggers to look for are listed below.

  • Mental Triggers
    • Depression-Depression is a common co-occurring disorder with addiction. Many self-medicate to handle the symptoms of depression they may be experiencing. If this condition is not treated, many will turn back to their substance of choice to combat the overwhelming emotions of depression.
    • Stress-Many people search for an outlet when they are stressed. Addicts turn to substances to escape their stressors. Without positive and healthy methods to cope with stress, they will return to drugs or alcohol.
    • Exhaustion-A person that is exhausted is less likely to take care of themselves and put the daily effort into their recovery that is needed.
    • Isolation-Without the proper support system, a person is left to their own thoughts and feelings with no help or someone to talk to. This can be very dangerous for a person battling addiction and trying to recover.
    • Bad Relationships-Stressors caused by an unhealthy relationship can lead to drinking to escape the situation.
    • Trauma-Past or current physical or sexual abuse may cause a person to turn back to a substance to escape or forget.
  • Physical Triggers
    • Locations-Returning to places where they once used or drank
    • People-Seeing people associated with their addiction
    • Objects-Reminders of past substance use
    • Media-A movie or song may trigger a memory

What to Do When an Alcoholic Relapses

Relapse should not be treated or viewed as a failure. It helps the addict to view it as part of their process in recovery to use as a stepping stone to find their sobriety. As the chart below shows, relapse for addiction is similar to the chances of relapse for other chronic illnesses and may be a sign that a new treatment plan is needed. If your loved one has relapsed, it is important that they get help as soon as possible. Try not to blame them for giving in to their cravings and instead use it as a learning opportunity for the future. Giving in and drinking again does not mean that they have failed in their recovery, but rather it serves as another step to overcome their addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported that relapse rates for those in recovery is 40%-60%. If an alcoholic has relapsed the first step should include the decision of going to a rehab facility or if they can realign their sobriety plan and stick to it. Returning to an inpatient program can provide the structure and care needed to get an alcoholic back on the path to maintaining their sobriety. Therapies may help you build the skills needed to learn from this alcohol relapse to help avoid another in the future.

Finding Treatment for a Loved One

When a loved one relapses, it can be very difficult to know what to do. If you’re saying to yourself, “I know my boyfriend relapsed, but I don’t know what to do!” find the right treatment facility for them to recover. Archstone Behavioral Health, located in Lantana, Florida, is a drug and alcohol rehab center that offers a full continuum of care. Relapse is a part of recovery and may lead your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, sibling, child, or parent back into a rehab facility. Archstone will help prepare your loved one with the tools they need to find success in recovery and to do their best to avoid another relapse. If you or a loved are struggling with addiction or have relapsed, call Archstone Behavioral Health at (561) 264-4961 to get help.