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Understanding The Three Stages of Relapse

by | Published on Feb 7, 2020 | Health and Wellness, Sober Living

Stages of Relapse

The stages of relapse generally are similar for most addicts. Relapse is an unfortunate part of the story for some recovering addicts and alcoholics. There’s a misconception that relapse is the exact moment someone picks up a drink or a drug. The more you learn about the different stages of relapse, the better equipped you’ll be to face them. 

What Are The Stages of Relapse?

Part of preventing relapse means being aware of each stage. There are several different theories about the stages of relapse, but they all have some elements in common. For most, the stages of relapse begin with a trigger. 

Triggers are events, people, memories, or objects that cause cravings. These are different for everyone. Triggers can be the death of someone close, a break-up, a job loss, or even hearing an old song that reminds someone of their drinking days. 

For someone with a strong foundation in recovery, triggers are manageable. However, for others, they can kick start the stages of relapse.

The Stages of Relapse

Relapse doesn’t happen overnight. Just like you live addiction recovery one day at a time, relapse is a process.

Researchers across the country have spent many hours studying what happens before a relapse. For example, Terence Gorski identified eleven stages of relapse before someone uses drugs. As a result, many professionals still use this theory today. The primary stages of relapse fall into three significant categories:

  • Emotional Relapse: This happens when someone isn’t able to manage difficult emotions, like grief or frustration. Emotional relapse can also mean mood swings, intense anger, and loneliness. Additionally, it often leads to a shift in thinking and behavior.
  • Mental Relapse: This is the stage at which someone starts to think seriously about relapsing. Generally, a mental relapse means obsessing about drugs, irrational thinking, and finding reasons to justify a “slip.”
  • Behavioral Relapse: This includes physically using a drink or a drug. But before that happens, behavioral relapse means engaging in high-risk activities, such as being around drugs, starting to keep secrets and “sneaking around,” and preparing to use.

Most of the time, the emotional and mental stage will happen simultaneously, making it more challenging to address. 

Stage 1: Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is often the first step of relapse. Here, you might not be actively thinking about using drugs or alcohol. Some of the warning signs of this phase include:

  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Isolating yourself from peers and family members
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits
  • Poor self-care emotionally or physically
  • Not having fun being sober 

Stage 2: Mental Relapse

When someone dismisses the first stage of relapse, they’ll often fall for mental relapse. This turns into an internal war within the individual. Part of them wants to use it, while the other part wants to control their triggers. Warning signs of this relapse stage include:

  • Cravings or physical and psychological urges to use drugs and alcohol
  • Thinking about or hanging out wit individuals associated with past use
  • Minimizing the consequences of past use or glamorizing past use
  • Looking for relapse opportunities
  • Thinking of schemes to better control using and planning your relapse

Stage 3: Physical Relapse

When they dismiss the signs of the first two stages, unfortunately, they’re more likely to relapse. This stage includes the physical act of drinking alcohol or using other drugs. It’s key to address physical relapse to stop the vicious cycle of addiction before it is too late. 

It’s paramount to pay attention to the early warning signs during emotional and mental relapse to avoid addiction relapse. Friends and family need to educate themselves about the stages – emotional, mental, and physical – to help you stay sober and prevent a substance abuse relapse.

Addressing Relapse Before It’s Too Late

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we focus on helping patients with relapse prevention skills. We also understand that for some, relapse is a part of the story. One of the significant challenges for many addicts and alcoholics is admitting that they need help. As a result, we maintain a judgment-free and compassionate environment.

Our addiction treatment center incorporates a comprehensive approach that focuses primarily on relapse prevention techniques. By learning how to identify the warning signs of relapse, you can help prevent a vicious cycle. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please seek help today. Our caring staff members are always available to help. Aftercare programs give you access to support groups, individual counseling, and family therapy sessions that can be paramount to avoid relapse and find continued addiction recovery. 

Molly

Molly

Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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