The Stages of Relapse
Many people think of relapse as the moment when you use again, starting a downward spiral into intoxication. But it’s actually a more elaborate process than that. The key to preventing relapse during your recovery and sobriety from drugs or alcohol is to understand the stages of relapse as they play out in your mind, your body, and your life.
According to Dr Steven M. Melemis MD PhD, these stages are defined as:
In the emotional relapse stage, you aren’t actually thinking about using again so all seems peachy and clear. But your emotions and life circumstances are setting the stage for the big relapse, whether you are conscious of it or not. Things like anxiety, anger, isolation, mood swings, and a deterioration of eating and sleeping habits can begin to unravel your resolve long before your brain starts to think about indulging in a quick fix.
Preventing relapse at this early stage is easier than the later stages but you have to be aware of what’s happening. When your emotions start to knock on your resolve, it’s time to practice self-care and change your habits in order to remind your body who’s in control and to consciously decide that these early emotional cues will not lead you to the next phase of the slippery slope.
The dangerous stage of early relapse is when your mind goes to war. After the emotional triggers start to push you down the path of relapse, eventually your mind starts to kick in and you begin to fantasize about using again. Part of you will be resisting and fighting the urge, but another part of you is thinking about all the times you used, glamorizing your drug history, lying, and just overall constantly thinking about the possibility that you really could grab a quick fix if you really wanted or “needed” to.
Winning the mental war is harder than the emotional one and requires a high dedication to your sobriety and health. At this stage, it’s important that you tell someone you trust that you’re thinking of or having urges to use again. It also helps to distract yourself, wait thirty minutes, and practice relaxation techniques to calm the urges and remember who you are and why you’re sober.
Once the mind train starts down that path, it’s very difficult to prevent the eventual physical relapse of actual drug or alcohol use.
Be aware of the early stages and practice techniques to curb the urges right away and you can save yourself from the anguish and frustration of starting over.