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Relapse Prevention Tips: Stages of Relapse

March 25, 2014

Early recovery is an exciting and venerable time for many people. The moment someone decides to stop using or drinking they are in recovery and at risk of relapse.

Relapse is often thought of a specific event (i.e. using a substance or drinking), but it’s actually an extended process that consists of three stages: emotional, mental and physical.

Three States of Relapse

1. Emotional

While you’re not thinking about using, your emotions and behaviors are setting you up for a possible relapse. These relapse “pitfalls” are:

  • Stress buildup: Allowing stress to continually build to toxic levels, without a healthy stress management system in place. The inability to tolerate frustration or isolation and not asking for help.
  • Poor eating habits
  • Not attending groups or classes: It’s important to attend groups and therapy sessions during treatment and post-treatment, via 12-step groups or a localtherapist/support group.

Emotional relapse could also be a sign of Post-Acute Withdrawal (PAWS). This post explains PAWS and its signs and symptoms.

2. Mental

Ambivalence is a common state in early recovery, as part of you wants to use and the other part is resistant Early stages of mental relapse consist of simply thinking about using, but as it progresses it begins to manifest as:

  • Risky behavior: Hanging out with old friends who are still using.
  • Glamorizing past use: Fantasizing about old, unhealthy friends and the places where you used to use.
  • Planning to relapse: Justifying why you must relapse and planning how you’ll accomplish it.

3. Physical

If you do not use your coping skills or reach out to someone once you begin thinking about relapse, like a therapist or sponsor, relapse is almost inevitable.

If you are noticing these signs and symptoms in yourself or someone you know in recovery, seek help and reach out to a therapist or sponsor.

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