The Stages of Relapse

cycles of recovery and relapse

A person does not develop substance addiction within a day. Repeated and long-term use of drugs and alcohol can be hard to quit because the chemicals in a person’s brain have formed a strong dependence on them. As a result, it may take a long time to quit substance use. Even when someone has achieved early sobriety, they face the risk of relapse.

People commonly define “relapse” as the physical re-use of substances after trying to quit. However, relapse has a few stages preceding the actual event of using a substance. Relapse occurs in a gradual but progressive fashion. Understanding the symptoms and behaviors of each stage of relapse can help clients and health professionals identify triggers and intervene early.

Relapse Begins With the Mind

Before physical re-use of substances occurs, the recovering individual often goes through two preceding phases known as emotional relapse and mental relapse. Emotional relapse happens when one’s emotions are conditioning them for a potential relapse down the road. A person who has achieved sobriety may initially show emotional improvement, but then the emotional state declines. Warning signs include social isolation from family and peers, less reliance on support groups, and bottling up one’s emotions. With time, the ability to manage anxiety or other emotional problems can worsen.

Next is the phase of mental relapse, characterized as a war going on inside one’s mind. This person is debating whether or not re-using drugs and alcohol can soothe the rising anxiety or mood problems. Part of the person wants to use drugs or alcohol, while the other part knows where re-use will likely lead. Many people begin to reminisce about past addiction or fantasize about using, leading to more and more intense cravings. Warning signs of mental relapse include thoughts about people and places associated with past use, thinking patterns glamorizing past use and minimizing harmful consequences, mental bargaining with self, deception, scheming, or planning for use in a controlled way.

Early Intervention Can Save the Day

The pattern of relapse demonstrates that emotional and mental health matters for a recovering individual. One needs to intervene in these areas as early as possible. If appropriate measures are taken to mend the gaps, there is a possibility to salvage the situation from progressing into a full-blown physical relapse.

One needs to have self-awareness regarding their emotional health. The feelings of anxiety or moodiness are messages sent by the body. These feelings should cause a person to pause and refocus on one’s emotional health. Denial can only make things worse. Emotional relapse may linger for a while, making recovering individuals feel uncomfortable or discontent.

Healthcare professionals should emphasize the importance of emotional health even during detox treatment. Clients need to be coached in dealing with shame and fear of failure as a part of their relapse prevention plan. It is often due to shame or fear of failure that a recovering individual does not communicate or verbalize emotional struggles. Sharing one’s feelings at this phase of emotional relapse is crucial.

When the battle progresses to the mind dwelling on re-using, a recovering individual may give in to self-deception in believing that they can control the use this time without becoming dependent. This dangerous thought is a cause of concern. Healthcare professionals should focus on this indicator while screening recovering individuals. Clients should be encouraged to pause and share these mental struggles with a trusted peer.

When the mind is engaged in a tug-of-war about re-using drugs or alcohol, it is crucial to discontinue that self-dialogue. The way out is through talking with therapists and counselors about one’s cravings and the thinking pattern behind them. Because mental relapse is often preceded by emotional relapse, healthcare professionals should coach clients on healthily managing their emotions.

Relaxation for the Mind

The role of relaxation cannot be over-estimated in relapse prevention. Relaxation helps reduce tension, anger, anxiety, irritability, and cravings. Every person has different ways to relax. Healthcare professionals should walk alongside a client in finding out what healthy activities or hobbies lead to relaxation for that individual. The most common techniques are meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and art therapy.

Besides mind-body relaxation, Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also essential in the early phase of recovery. Throughout the entire journey of recovery, it is an important methodology in coaching clients’ self-awareness about negative thinking patterns and correcting them through healthy coping skills.

Addiction treatment should incorporate a robust relapse prevention strategy informed by the understanding of emotional and mental phases of relapse. If recovery is a process of personal growth with developmental milestones, then relapse can also be measured in the counter-steps of such a developmental trajectory.

Emotional and mental relapse always precede a physical relapse. Preventing relapse should begin with the cornerstones of good emotional and mental health. Healthcare professionals should build this understanding in screening clients and designing individualized relapse prevention plans. A holistic approach is needed to treat both the body and the mind. Casa Recovery understands the need for treating both the body and the mind in a comprehensive and holistic approach. In the area of emotional and mental health, their therapists are highly experienced in addressing the individual needs of each client. Preventing emotional and mental relapse is equally as important as preventing physical relapse, as they are the precursors of this process. Casa Recovery customizes efficient and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. Relapse prevention can be done effectively. Early intervention is key. To learn more about how Casa Recovery helps clients prevent release, call today at (888) 928-2272.

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