What Are The Three Stages of Relapse?



Have you ever thought that you had overcome an addiction, only to find yourself relapsing?

Or do you have a loved one or a friend who struggles with an addiction, and relapses sometimes? Are you looking to learn and understand a bit more about what relapsing is and how it works?

If you can understand the relapsing process a little bit, you may have an easier time putting a stop to it before it’s too late.

When you think about a relapse, do you imagine a momentary lapse in control? As if there’s a dam, and the pressure just builds and builds until suddenly it breaks, the self-control is gone, and a relapse takes place? Do you view a relapse as a growing pressure, or a sudden impulse that comes out of nowhere?

Here’s some information about the three stages of relapse, and how understanding these three stages and what they look like can help to navigate and avoid them.

The Three Stages of Relapse

Here are the 3 stages of a relapse:

  • The emotional relapse
  • The mental relapse
  • The physical relapse

Each of these stages can be broken down into a number of different behaviors and ways to identify that they are taking place. This could manifest itself a bit differently from one individual to the next, but there will also be enough commonality and overlap that anyone should be able to recognize some of these traits or behaviors in themselves as they head through the stages of relapse.

See also: Can Alcoholics Drink Kombucha?

Let’s discuss each of these stages a bit more.

What Is The Emotional Relapse?

The first stage, emotional, is when a person’s emotional state starts to worsen.

They probably aren’t really thinking about using their substance or vice of choice at this point, at least not directly. But some of the emotions and feelings that can lead to drinking are starting to find their way to the surface.

This can happen if someone starts to get very comfortable in their recovery and starts to neglect the stuff that’s worked for them. Maybe they’ll have stopped going to meetings, or cut back on their therapy, or just started to be a bit less diligent in taking care of themselves in the ways that have helped them to stop drinking in the first place.

How to handle it:

Be open with your emotions and feelings, don’t bottle things up, reach out to your support systems, don’t isolate yourself, think about the coping skills that work for you and engage them, give your bad feelings room to breathe and address them to overcome them. Recognize that you’re at a risk to start drinking again, and try to avoid going past this first stage.

What Is The Mental Relapse?

After dealing with a worsening emotional situation, the next stage is when somebody starts the mental relapse. This is where they start to think about old habits, maybe old situations and people they used to hang around with that weren’t great for them. This is when someone starts to flirt with the idea of drinking or using their vice, they may start reaching out to old friends who they’d drink with in the past, and just generally thinking more and more about drinking and finally starting to put plans in place to drink.

How to handle it:

Remind yourself how this plays out. You’ve been down this path before, probably again and again. Are you trying to convince yourself that this time will be different? Are you trying to convince yourself that you’ll be able to drink in moderation this time, even thuoght it’s never worked in the past? Take an honest look at these thoughts because you know better.

Take it one day at a time. Some days, you’ll be a lot closer to drinking than on other days. Every day matters, the easy ones and the hard ones alike, they each have 24 hours and they each represent plenty of opportunities for you to fall off and start drinking again, but they also represent countless chances for you to continue to overcome peer pressure to drink and stay sober.

What Is The Physical Relapse?

Up to this point, the path has started with a neglect of one’s emotions and feelings, which grew and manifested into a mental desire to drink. From that point, the brain finds all sorts of ways to rationalize drinking, to trick you into thinking you’ll be able to control it this time.

If you give into that, the physical relapse begins, and that’s the drinking.

Many people see a relapse as just this final stage, without recognizing the first two steps that it takes to get here.

So even if it seems like a sudden act, to buy alcohol and drinking, even if that seems like a sudden impulse, it took two other steps that were brewing below the surface.

Being mindful of these first two steps will empower you to correct the ship before it’s gotten to the physical relapse.