In order to maintain abstinence from alcohol or drugs, an understanding or recovery and relapse prevention is essential. Recovery is defined as abstinence from all mind altering substances plus a full return to healthy biological, psychological, and social functioning. Relapse is defined as the process of becoming dysfunctional in recovery. This relapse prevention guide is designed to help recognize and manage relapse warning signs.

Typically, relapse progresses from a level of stability in recovery through a period of increasing stress. This dysfunction can lead to a return of chemical use, physical and emotional collapse, or suicide.

To understand the progression of warning signs, it is important to examine the dynamic relationship between the recovery and relapse processes. Recovery and relapse can be described as related processes that unfold in six stages.

Take a minute to examine your present path.

Are you on the road to recovery or on the road to relapse?

Relapse is a process, not an event. In order to understand relapse prevention you must first understand the stages of relapse. Relapse begins weeks or even months before the event of physically using again. During this time, the individual heading toward relapse experiences three different stages- the first being Emotional Relapse, shortly after begins Mental Relapse, and finally Physical Relapse.

In the Emotional Relapse stage, you are not yet thinking about using, but your emotions and behaviors are setting you up for a possible Physical Relapse in the future. Below is a list of possible signs of Emotional Relapse:

  • Anxiety
  • Intolerance
  • Anger
  • Defensiveness
  • Mood Swings
  • Isolation
  • Not asking for help
  • Not going to meetings
  • Poor eating habits
  • Poor sleep habits

Early relapse prevention at this stage requires an awareness that you’re in Emotional Relapse and changing your behavior is necessary. The most important thing you can do during the Emotional Stage of Relapse is take better care of yourself. Remember why you used alcohol or drugs- to escape, relax, or reward yourself. Too much time in Emotional Relapse is exhausting, and when you are exhausted you will seek escape, which will send you into Mental Relapse.

In Order to take better care of yourself, begin noticing your own habits and finding solutions. For example, if you are isolating, remind yourself to reach out and ask for help. If you notice that you are anxious, get back to practicing relaxation techniques. If your sleeping and eating habits begin to slip, practice self-care. When you don’t take care of yourself you create situations that are mentally and emotionally draining that make you want to escape.

It gets harder to make the right choices as the pull of addiction gets stronger. Some might describe it as a war going on in your head. Part of you wants to use, but part of you doesn’t. Some signs of Mental Relapse include:

  • Thinking about people, places, and things associated with drug or alcohol use.
  • Glamorizing your past use.
  • Lying.
  • Hanging out with old, using friends.
  • Fantasizing about using.
  • Thinking about relapsing.
  • Planning your relapse around other people’s schedule.

By practicing self-care, you can avoid those feelings from expanding and in doing so, you can avoid relapse.

In the early phase of Mental Relapse, you may be idly thinking about using, however in the later phases you are definitely thinking about using. Some techniques for dealing with mental urges include:

    • Play the tape through. The fantasy begins as you think you’ll be able to control your use this time- but play the tape through- one drink or drug leads to more. You’ll soon find yourself caught in the same vicious cycle as before.
    • Tell someone that you’re having urges to use. Call a friend, a support, or someone in recovery. The magic of sharing is that the minute you start to talk about what you’re thinking or feeling, your urges begin to disappear.
    • Distract yourself. When you think about using, do something to occupy yourself. Call a friend, go to a meeting, or go outside for a walk. If you just sit there with your urge, you’re giving your Mental Relapse room to grow.
    • Wait for 30 minutes. Urges typically last anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. When you’re having an urge, it feels like an eternity- but if you keep yourself busy doing what you’re supposed to do, it’ll quickly be gone.
  • Do your recovery “one day at a time.” Don’t think about staying abstinent forever. That thought can be paralyzing thinking about recovery that way is overwhelming even for people who’ve been in recovery a long time. When you’re frequently struggling and having lots of urges, tell yourself that you won’t use for today or for the next thirty minutes. Do your recovery in bite-sized pieces and don’t sabotage yourself by thinking too far ahead.
  • Make relaxation part of your recovery. style=”font-weight: 400;”>Relaxation is an important component of relapse prevention; when you’re tense the tendency is to do what is familiar- and wrong, instead of doing what is new- and right. When you are relaxed you’re more open to change.

Once you start thinking about relapse, if you don’t use some of the techniques mentioned above, it doesn’t take long to go from there to Physical Relapse. It’s hard to stop the process of relapse at that point. That’s not where you should focus your efforts in recovery. That’s achieving abstinence through brute force. But it is not recovery! If you recognize the early warning signs of relapse, and understand the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal, you’ll be able to catch yourself before its too late.