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In the journey of addiction recovery, setbacks are not uncommon. Whether you’re in the early stages of sobriety or have been on the path for some time, the possibility of relapse is a reality many face. However, relapse doesn’t mean failure; it’s a natural part of the recovery process that offers valuable insights and opportunities for growth. At California Prime Recovery, an addiction treatment center in Orange County, CA, we understand the complexities of relapse and are here to provide support and guidance every step of the way. In this blog, we’ll explore the stages of a relapse and offer strategies for navigating them with resilience and determination.

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT

What Is Addiction?

Addiction refers to a complex condition characterized by the compulsive and uncontrollable use of substances (such as drugs or alcohol) or engaging in behaviors (such as gambling or gaming), despite negative consequences. It is often marked by a strong and persistent craving for the substance or activity, loss of control over its use, and continued use despite knowing the potential harm.

What is Addiction Treatment?

Addiction treatment refers to the process of helping individuals overcome substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, or other forms of addiction. The goal of addiction treatment is to address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction to promote recovery and improve overall well-being. Treatment approaches can vary depending on the type and severity of the addiction, as well as individual needs and preferences. Treatment for addiction to alcohol and drugs can be a complicated process because long-term abuse of substances creates harmful and lasting changes in the body and the brain. Trying to quit an addiction abruptly or alone can be challenging because the body and the brain develop tolerance to the substance, which can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms and can create relapses. In the United States, addiction remains a pressing issue, affecting a substantial portion of the population. In 2019, around 20.2 million adults were reported to have struggled with a substance use disorder. This encompasses a range of substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications. The opioid epidemic, in particular, has garnered significant attention, with a notable increase in opioid-related overdoses and fatalities.

Addiction treatment can be delivered in various settings, including residential treatment centers, outpatient programs, and community-based support services. The choice of treatment depends on factors such as the severity of the addiction, individual needs, and available resources. Successful addiction treatment often involves a tailored and multidisciplinary approach that addresses the unique challenges of each individual. Our treatment programs include several levels and modalities of therapies, strategies, and counseling, in addition to medical and clinical expertise. We aim to help our clients get back their lives and live confidently and successfully.

What is a Relapse?

Relapse refers to the return or recurrence of a behavior or condition, often after a period of improvement or recovery. In the context of addiction, relapse specifically refers to the recurrence of substance use after a period of abstinence or successful treatment. It is a common and challenging aspect of the recovery process.

Relapse does not mean that the individual has failed in their recovery; rather, it highlights the chronic and complex nature of addiction. It is important to view relapse as an opportunity for learning and adjustment in the ongoing journey of recovery.

What Causes a Relapse?

Relapse is a complex and multifaceted process that can be influenced by various factors, both internal and external. While the specific triggers and circumstances leading to relapse may vary from person to person, some common causes include:

  1. Stress: High levels of stress can weaken your resolve and increase vulnerability to relapse. Stressful life events, such as financial difficulties, relationship problems, work-related issues, or health concerns, can trigger cravings and undermine coping mechanisms.

  2. Unresolved Trauma: Past traumas or unresolved emotional wounds can contribute to relapse by triggering intense emotions, memories, and cravings. Without proper support and therapy to address underlying trauma, individuals may turn to substances as a way to cope with distressing feelings.

  3. Negative Emotions: Negative emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom can be powerful triggers for relapse. Some individuals may use substances as a means of escaping or numbing unpleasant emotions, especially when they lack healthy coping skills.

  4. Social Pressure: Peer pressure, social environments, and influences from friends or family members who use substances can increase the risk of relapse. Being around people who engage in substance use or attending events where alcohol or drugs are readily available can undermine sobriety efforts.

  5. Overconfidence: Feeling overly confident in one’s ability to maintain sobriety can lead to complacency and a lack of vigilance. Some individuals may underestimate the severity of their addiction or believe they can handle risky situations without relapsing, leading to a false sense of security.

  6. Isolation: Social isolation, withdrawal from supportive relationships, and a lack of connection to others can contribute to relapse. Feelings of loneliness, alienation, or disconnection may drive individuals to seek solace in substances as a way to cope with emotional pain or boredom.

  7. Poor Coping Skills: Inadequate coping skills and ineffective stress-management strategies can increase the likelihood of relapse. Without healthy alternatives for managing triggers, cravings, and negative emotions, individuals may resort to familiar patterns of substance use.

  8. Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders: Untreated or poorly managed co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can exacerbate substance use and increase the risk of relapse. Dual diagnosis treatment is essential for addressing both addiction and underlying psychiatric issues.

  9. Environmental Triggers: Environmental cues, such as places, people, or activities associated with past substance use, can trigger cravings and memories of using. Exposure to these triggers can reignite the desire to use substances, especially during vulnerable moments.

  10. Lack of Support: Insufficient social support, limited access to treatment resources, or inadequate aftercare can hinder recovery efforts and increase the risk of relapse. Strong support networks, ongoing therapy, and participation in support groups are essential for maintaining sobriety and preventing relapse.

It’s important to recognize that relapse is not a sign of failure but rather a common and often predictable part of the recovery process. By understanding the potential triggers and underlying causes of relapse, individuals can develop proactive strategies for managing cravings, coping with stress, and maintaining long-term sobriety. With the right support, resources, and determination, relapse can be overcome, and recovery can continue to progress.

 

What are Some Common Relapses?

Relapses can involve a variety of behaviors or substances depending on the nature of the addiction. Here are common scenarios and substances associated with relapses in different types of addiction:

**1. Substance Use Disorders:

  • Alcohol: For individuals recovering from alcohol use disorder, a relapse often involves a return to drinking, whether moderate or heavy.
  • Illicit Drugs: In cases of drug addiction, relapse may involve the use of illicit substances such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or other drugs.
  • Prescription Medications: Individuals may relapse by using prescription medications inappropriately, especially if they have a history of substance abuse.

**2. Nicotine Addiction:

  • For those trying to quit smoking, a relapse may involve resuming the use of tobacco products such as cigarettes or other forms of nicotine.

**3. Behavioral Addictions:

  • Gambling: Individuals with a gambling addiction may relapse by engaging in excessive gambling behavior.
  • Food: For those with food addiction or eating disorders, relapse may involve unhealthy eating patterns, binging, or purging.
  • Internet/Technology: Behavioral addictions related to excessive internet or technology use may involve a return to problematic online behaviors.

**4. Process Addictions:

  • Sexual Behavior: Individuals recovering from sex addiction may relapse by engaging in compulsive or risky sexual behaviors.
  • Shopping: People with compulsive shopping or spending addictions may relapse by reverting to impulsive or excessive shopping.

**5. Co-occurring Disorders:

  • Individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders and substance use disorders may experience relapses involving the misuse of substances or exacerbation of mental health symptoms.

**6. Self-Harming Behaviors:

  • Some individuals, particularly those struggling with emotional or psychological distress, may engage in self-harming behaviors as a form of relapse.

**7. Other Compulsive Behaviors:

**8. Poly-Substance Use:

  • Some individuals may relapse by using multiple substances simultaneously, known as poly-substance use.

**9. Environmental Triggers:

  • Certain environments or situations can act as triggers for relapse. For example, returning to places associated with substance use or encountering specific stressors may contribute to relapse behaviors.

It’s important to note that the specific behaviors or substances involved in relapses can vary widely based on individual circumstances, the type of addiction, and the underlying factors contributing to the addiction. Addressing relapse often requires a comprehensive and individualized approach that may include counseling, support groups, medication-assisted treatment, and ongoing aftercare planning

Relapse Phases

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is the initial phase of the relapse process. During this stage, individuals are not actively contemplating using drugs or alcohol. However, their emotions and behaviors may set them up for future relapse.

Some noticeable symptoms of emotional relapse are:

  • Not attending recovery support group meetings
  • Withdrawing from peers and family
  • Suppressing emotions
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits
  • Attending meetings but not actively participating
  • Focusing on other people’s problems to avoid one’s own
  • Inadequate management of anxiety, anger, or other emotional challenges
  • Intolerance
  • Defensiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Reluctance to seek help
  • Neglecting emotional and physical self-care
  • Neglecting sober activities and personal time

Engaging in self-reflection by asking certain questions to prevent getting trapped in the first stage of relapse is beneficial. Journaling can serve as an excellent starting point. Consider these self-reflection questions:

  • Are you practicing self-care?
  • How are you enjoying yourself?
  • Are you making time for yourself, or are you getting caught up in the lives and dramas of others?
  • What coping mechanisms are you using?
  • What can you add to your recovery program to ensure emotional and physical well-being?
  • Are you addressing your thoughts, emotions, and feelings?
  • Have you tried to actively participate in recovery support meetings?
  • How are you managing the daily stresses of life?

Recognizing that you are experiencing emotional relapse and making immediate behavioral changes are crucial for preventing relapse. If you notice any signs of the first stage of relapse, it’s better to discuss it with the professionals so that they can make changes in your treatment for addiction. This will help you stop at the first stage of relapse. Also, note that if tension builds, the risk of transitioning to stage 2—mental relapse—becomes greater.

Mental Relapse

When individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) neglect self-care and remain in a state of emotional relapse for extended periods, they start feeling uncomfortable with themselves. This discomfort leads to restlessness, irritability, and discontent. These emotions build up tension, triggering thoughts of using drugs or alcohol as an escape.

Mental relapse becomes a battle within the mind, with one side yearning to eliminate negative emotions through substance use while the other side resists relapse. Resisting relapse becomes increasingly challenging as the individual becomes more absorbed in this obsessive mental state.

Signs of Mental Relapse Include:

  • Dwelling on past drug or alcohol use and the addict’s lifestyle
  • Minimizing the consequences of past use
  • Romanticizing and glamorizing past use or lifestyle
  • Cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Engaging in lying or bargaining
  • Contemplating ways to control drug or alcohol use
  • Seeking opportunities to relapse
  • Planning a relapse

During the mental relapse stage, individuals may engage in bargaining. This can involve looking for excuses to drink or use drugs again or seeking ways to control their substance use. They may feel they deserve to drink or use drugs to celebrate occasions like holidays or weddings or because they are attending a friend’s gathering.

Physical Relapse

Without intervention, mental relapse can progress to physical relapse, where the act of using substances occurs. Whether it’s a single lapse or a full-blown recurrence of addictive behavior, physical relapse represents a critical juncture in the recovery journey. It’s important to respond to relapse with compassion and resilience, recognizing that setbacks are opportunities for learning and growth.

How to Avoid Relapse in Your Recovery Journey?

Strategies for Navigating Relapse:

  1. Cultivate Self-Awareness: Developing mindfulness and self-awareness is key to recognizing the early warning signs of relapse. Practice tuning into your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without judgment. By staying attuned to your internal experiences, you can intervene before relapse gains momentum.

  2. Build a Support Network: Surround yourself with a supportive community of peers, mentors, therapists, and loved ones who understand the challenges of addiction recovery. Lean on your support network during times of vulnerability and reach out for help when needed. Remember, you don’t have to navigate the journey alone.

  3. Develop Coping Strategies: Explore healthy coping mechanisms and stress-management techniques to navigate triggers and cravings effectively. Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, exercise, creative expression, or spending time in nature. By building a toolkit of coping strategies, you empower yourself to face challenges with resilience and resourcefulness.

  4. Learn from Setbacks: View relapse as an opportunity for reflection, learning, and personal growth. Identify the triggers, patterns, and vulnerabilities that contributed to the relapse and develop strategies to address them proactively. By embracing setbacks as valuable lessons, you strengthen your resolve and deepen your commitment to recovery.

Seeking Treatment? We Can Help!

At California Prime Recovery, as an in-network provider we work with most insurance plans, such as:

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse, reach out to California Prime Recovery today. Our team of compassionate professionals is here to support your journey towards lasting well-being. Give us a call at 866-208-2390

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