Relapse prevention is the ultimate goal for any addict who has just started their road to recovery. After completing their in-patient treatment programs and moving on to aftercare or a 12-step program, many are highly motivated to maintain their sobriety. They’ve taken the necessary steps, underwent drug or alcohol detox, and are now ready to begin a new chapter.

And many will stay sober for a long time, perhaps even until the end of their lives. Through hard work, they will succeed in moving on from substance abuse and letting go of their bad habits. They will find a new job, build new relationships, and create a life for themselves they’ve always wanted.

At the same time, some people in recovery will struggle. They will also work hard, but they will be more tempted to go back to how they used to live. They will think about their drink or drug of choice, and they might even relapse into using again.

To succeed in preventing relapse, you need to learn a few things about it. In this post, we will talk about the stages and causes of relapse, the potential relapse triggers, and what you can do to stop yourself from spiraling into addiction once more. The more you know about how relapse happens – the more information you gather and apply to your daily life, the higher your chances of preventing it are.

Three Stages of Relapse

What you may not have considered before is that relapse is a process. It is not a singular, momentary event – no person goes from being completely fine to using again in a single day. The relapse process takes time, and it usually happens in these three stages:

  • Emotional relapse

In the first stage of relapse, former substance abusers aren’t even thinking about using again. They don’t want to fall back into old habits. However, there are signs that they are inching towards relapse, even if they are not aware of it yet.

These signs boil down to a lack of self-care. Self-care means different things for different people, but here are some ways to determine whether emotional relapse is happening: not talking about emotions, being socially isolated, not going to meetings anymore, going to meetings but not sharing, focusing on other people’s problems to avoid your own, poor eating and sleeping habits, poor personal hygiene.

Prolonged lack of self-care, either physical or emotional, leads to the next stage, which is mental relapse.

  • Mental relapse

During mental relapse, recovering addicts are battling with themselves. A part of them doesn’t want to use again, but a part of them does.

They start thinking about past situations when they used and perhaps even glamorizing them. They remember the people they used with, the places they went to. They minimize the consequences of using again and maybe bargain with themselves. Bargaining involves imagining situations where it would be acceptable to use (like on vacation, for example). All of this is interspersed by rational thoughts about how relapsing would be wrong and why they should never use again.

However, if not dealt with through therapy or other appropriate methods, mental relapse can evolve into the final stage of relapse.

  • Physical relapse

The third stage is where the individual starts using again. A distinction should be made between a single drink or drug use and full-blown uncontrolled use that could result from the first one. It is actually rare that a person stops themselves at the first use. A first drink or drug use leads to more, and soon the addict is back to obsessively thinking about their substance and how they can get more of it.

Relapse Triggers

Aside from getting familiar with the stages of relapse and how the process works, an individual should also be familiar with the common triggers for relapsing. These are divided into internal and external triggers.

Here are some examples of internal triggers:

  • Negative feelings: anxiety, anger, fear, shame, depression, loneliness, etc.
  • Neutral feelings: nervousness, insecurity, boredom, pressure, tiredness, neglect, etc.
  • Positive feelings: excitement, passion, strength, confidence, sexual arousal, etc.

And some examples of external triggers:

  • People: former drug dealers, friends, co-workers, family members, employers, etc.
  • Places: bars, clubs, hotels, concerts, schools, bathrooms, a friend’s home, etc.
  • Things: drug abuse paraphernalia, a TV set, cash, specific furniture, empty pill bottles, etc.
  • Situations: celebrations, holiday parties, large gatherings with people and music, etc.

One person can’t have all of these as triggers, but they can have many. Your job is to determine what your trigger for relapse is (or several of them) and do your best to avoid it.

Some people might consider avoiding triggers a sign of weakness, but this is not true. It would be best if you didn’t put yourself in a high-risk situation and needlessly tempt yourself. The recovery process isn’t based on the strength of your willpower but on personal growth and the ability to seek help. Minimize your exposure to triggers as much as you can.

How to Avoid Relapsing

Knowing your triggers and staying away from them decreases your risk of relapse. Now that you’ve learned about the three stages of relapse, you need to know how to prevent them from developing. There are five rules of recovery you need to implement when it comes to sober living and a successful relapse prevention plan.

1. Change your life

Most people are eager to get back to their old life when they complete their journey in a treatment facility. Their goal is to have their old lifestyle again, only without the using. However, if you don’t change your life, all of the factors from before that contributed to your addiction will still be there.

The good news is that you don’t have to up-end your life completely. The most important things to change are your negative thinking patterns and people, places, and things that could be potentially triggering (those associated with using). It is also essential to adhere to the five rules of recovery from this point forward.

2. Be completely honest

Form a recovery circle – a circle that includes your loved ones, doctors, counselors, and members of your self-help groups – with whom you will be uncomfortably honest about your past and present emotions and thoughts. These are the people closest to you with whom you should share without holding back, even the things that you are ashamed of or that may have hurt your friends or family in the past.

Whenever you’re comfortable, you can expand your recovery circle. Just make sure that you break the cycle of lying that you went through so often during your addiction. Self-honesty is one of the cornerstones of the recovery process.

3. Ask for help

You don’t need to do this alone. You shouldn’t do this alone. There is nothing to be gained from trying to walk the path of recovery by yourself. Experience has repeatedly proven that attempting recovery without a reliable support system is setting yourself up for failure.

Open up to your loved ones. Sign up for self-help groups. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and other twelve-step programs are designed to offer a judgment-free zone for you to seek help in. You will benefit from hearing other people’s stories, learn what the voice of addiction sounds like, discover new coping skills from others, and more.

4. Practice self-care

The fourth rule of recovery is one of the most overlooked. Practicing self-care is essential to prevent the onset of the first stage of relapse, the emotional stage. You may feel you don’t deserve to care for yourself after everything you did, but the truth is the opposite; you need to learn to be kind and gentle to yourself to thrive.

Try mind-body relaxation. This process will ease the stress and tension of your days and help you let go of negative thinking. Find time to relax and decompress without the substance you were abusing.

5. Don’t look for loopholes in your recovery

Everyone’s recovery process is different, but stubbornly insisting that you’re doing it your way while simultaneously bending the rules and ignoring professional advice is a surefire way to relapse.

The three stages of relapse apply to you. The presence of triggers applies to you. The five rules of recovery definitely apply to you. In what way you will integrate this information and new knowledge into your life is what separates you from the rest, but the general structure of each process is the same. Don’t deny yourself the help you deserve.

Protecting yourself from relapse is hard work and something you will need to deal with continuously. If you’d like some guidance and more information on relapse prevention, give us a call at (619) 630-7844 or visit our website.