Relapse is not an event, it’s a process. It starts weeks or months before the actual relapse takes place. There are three stages of relapse, emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse. Emotional relapse means you’re not thinking about using, but your behaviors and emotions are creating a possible future relapse.
Emotional relapse signs are not going to 12 step meetings, bad eating habits, isolation, mood swings, defensiveness, anger, anxiety, not asking for help, and poor sleep habits. If you are aware of these behaviors, and can recognize the need for help, it’s much easier to avoid relapse. In later stages of relapse, things move faster, and it’s harder to escape.
Preventing relapse at the emotional stage means changing your behavior. A good suggestion is to do the opposite of how you feel. For example, if you don’t feel like going to a meeting, go anyway. If you feel angry, meditate. If you’re isolating, call a friend or sponsor. If behavior doesn’t change, you’ll feel frazzled, and want to avoid those feelings, which will lead you into a mental relapse.
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A good technique for avoiding mental relapse is to play the tape through. That means think about how just one drink will end. It probably won’t be just one drink, it leads to more bad decisions, and soon you can’t control what will happen next. Tomorrow you’ll wake up discouraged, disappointed, and maybe you won’t be able to stop. If you think about drinking or using this way, it doesn’t sound like so much fun. Think about the reason you stopped in the first place, and if you want to end up there again.
There are a couple more ways to deal with mental relapse like calling a friend or sponsor who can support you. Wait for 30 minutes. Most urges last for 15-30 minutes, if you can keep yourself busy, the feeling will pass. Go take a walk, go to a meeting, or go out to lunch. Take recovery one day at a time, don’t think about if you can stay sober forever, just think about if you can do it today so it doesn’t feel as daunting.
The last stage is physical relapse, which is actually driving to the bar or dealer. Once physical relapse occurs, be honest about it. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Just because you slipped, doesn’t mean you’re a failure or recovery is impossible. Many people have relapse in their recovery stories. Some have multiple relapses, but become sober for many years after.
Relapse can be an opportunity for learning, but it’s not always a fun lesson. The consequences can be devastating, but it’s possible to return from. There are many distinguished addiction and drug rehab centers listed on Passport to Recovery that can help people who are struggling with relapse and addiction.