Relapse doe not happen in a blink. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process of ups and downs, and the slip back into bad habits could take weeks or longer to form. Before you know it, shadows from the past could creep up and threaten your reality, even in sunny Florida.

Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine says relapse is gradual and has “distinct stages.” Catch the downward trend early enough, and you could prevent emotions and thoughts from guiding you down the wrong path.

Here are the three stages of slipping into relapse and what you can do about them.

#1: Emotional: Your Body May Know Before You Do

The earliest signs that a relapse could happen may go unnoticed by you. You might not think about using drugs or alcohol again. However, the conditions that led to addiction before can align once again.

Addictions and Recovery explains that some of the most common signs include:

  • Anxiety
  • Intolerant or impatient mindset
  • Anger and bottling emotions
  • Being overly or inappropriately defensive
  • Mood swings
  • Skipping recovery meetings
  • Eating a poor diet
  • Falling into poor sleeping habits
  • Avoiding help

This is the best stage to recognize the signs of relapse. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine says you should remember the HALT acronym and use it:

  • Hungry: Good nutrition keeps your mind and body healthier
  • Angry: Don’t bottle emotions
  • Lonely: Allow yourself to have fun
  • Tired: Keep a healthy sleep pattern

#2: Mental: Unrealistic Fond Memories and Mind Games

It is natural to miss old friends and the places you used to go, even if that part of your past was not healthy. If memories of what you perceive as good times consume your thoughts, you have probably reached the second stage, mental relapse. It is a mind game that you play on yourself, and it is built on the foundation of emotional relapse. If you feel bad, you will think about happier times. Unfortunately, those memories are clouded.

Sometimes, people who pass the emotional stage tend to glamorize the past. Maybe it was not so bad, and maybe old friends who still use drugs were fun to hang out with back then. If you used again, you might think you could control it before one incident undid all of your hard work. Those thoughts are a surefire path that leads to relapse.

It is normal for you to think about using once in a while. If you think about it more and more, that is a red flag. Here’s what you can do about it:

  • Go to therapy regularly.
  • Do not skip meetings.
  • Accept that youare slipping into relapse, even if you cannot see it or believe it. Denial is part of this stage.
  • Do not plan to use “just this once”.
  • Work on learning better coping skills.
  • Accept medication to manage symptoms if your doctor prescribes it.

#3: Physical: Take Action Before the Risk of Relapse Gets This Far

The physical stage is a relapse that has come to fruition. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine says some professionals divide it into a “lapse,” which is one incident, and “relapse,” which is full-fledged using. Make no mistake, however; one drink or one pill carries consequences that make it more difficult to regain control.

Just one incident is all that it takes to turn a struggle with mental or emotional relapse into uncontrolled using. The harder it is to resist, the more you need therapy sessions, meetings, and to rely on HALT instead of your instincts.

If the appeal of drugs or alcohol is pulling you harder every day, the most important thing to do is stay away. Avoid friends, places, and situations where a relapse would be easy. Saying “no” to the opportunity is not the way to stop relapse. Prevention in the earlier stages is. When you are faced with a choice, choose to steer away and back into recovery.

Relapse is a process. The struggle is part of addiction recovery, which is why treatment devotes so much time and energy to teaching you how to avoid the situation and cope with symptoms of addiction. It does not happen overnight, but before you know it, yearning can turn into using.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction or slipping toward relapse, now is the time to contact us. We can help navigate off the relapse path and back to the road to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.