Addiction is a chronic condition and, as with other chronic conditions, relapse is always a possibility. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that between 40 and 60 percent of people will relapse within a year of completing treatment for substance use. Although everyone has different patterns of substance use and relapse, relapse often follows a common pattern. Contrary to popular belief, relapse doesn’t typically happen in a moment of weakness, but is more often the result of a process that unfolds over weeks or months. The earlier you can spot the warning signs of relapse, the better your chances of correcting course and preventing it. Here are the common stages of relapse.


Emotional relapse is the first stage. At this point, you’re not even thinking about using again. You remember how bad active addiction was and you still want to avoid it. However, you’re not feeling great about recovery, either. You may be bottling up emotions, isolating yourself, skipping meetings (or going to meetings but not participating), worrying about other people’s problems, or falling into poor eating or sleeping habits. You are probably neglecting self-care, not only by eating or sleeping poorly, but also in not taking time to relax, have fun, and connect with others. The good news is that at this stage it’s relatively easy to get back on course. Start paying attention to self-care again, especially food and sleep. Talk to a therapist or someone you trust about how you’re feeling.


At the mental stage, you might start to feel conflicted. You still want to stay sober but the longer you’re in mental relapse, the more that desire weakens. Mental relapse is characterized by cravings for drugs or alcohol, thinking about people, places, and things associated with drugs or alcohol, glorifying past use, bargaining, lying, looking for excuses to relapse, or even planning a relapse. The mental relapse stage can begin with thinking there’s no harm in idle fantasies but end with making a definite plan to relapse. At a certain point in mental relapse, full physical relapse is only a matter of finding an opportunity. It’s important at this stage to avoid high-risk situations—but if you are at the point of mental relapse, you might not recognize a high-risk situation or have any desire to avoid it.


Physical relapse is when you actually start using drugs or alcohol again. Not all relapses are the same. Sometimes people slip, perhaps getting drunk, then regretting it the next day. Other relapses are more serious and may require going back into medical detox or inpatient treatment to get sober again.

At Fort, we offer a safe, nurturing, and healing space for men and women to find recovery from the multifaceted disease of addiction. Our team believes in inspiring each client to face their challenges, discover the root of their problems, and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call us today at 844.332.1807 or contact us through our admissions page.


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