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What Is Relapse? Understanding Recovery

Addiction is a chronic disease, meaning that it cannot be treated overnight. As a result, relapse is a common part of an individual’s recovery journey. Many people who have successfully recovered from drug or alcohol addiction have experienced a relapse at some point in their journey. While it is a common step in recovery, many people still ask themselves, “What is relapse?”

Understanding what relapse is and what the warning signs are can help you stop thoughts of using drugs or alcohol from becoming a true relapse.

What Is Relapse?

In its simplest terms, a relapse is the worsening of a medical condition that had previously improved. In the context of addiction, a relapse is when a person with a past addiction starts engaging in their addictive behavior after a period of not doing it.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) notes that relapse is defined as the recurrence of behavioral or other substantive indicators of active disease after a period of remission. For example, someone who had abstained from drinking for six months would be experiencing a relapse if they began drinking in an unhealthy manner. But if they only had one drink, they may be described as having a “slip up,” rather than a relapse.

But not all relapses are created equal, and not all who return to drug or alcohol use know what to do after a relapse. To better understand what a relapse is, it’s important to understand its different stages.


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Stages of Relapse

Stages of Relapse

Chances are if you’re wondering “what is relapse?” you may not be aware that there are different stages of relapse. Many people think that relapse is a quick, almost instantaneous occurrence when, in reality, it is a slow process. In fact, there are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical.

Each stage of relapse has its specific patterns of behaviors and thoughts associated with it. To better understand how you can prevent relapse, it’s important to understand each stage of relapse.

  • Emotional Relapse: Emotional relapse occurs long before the thoughts of using or cravings enter your mind. This stage of relapse is the rise (or resurfacing) of negative emotions typically associated with addiction such as irritability, anxiety, or anger. The most common sign of emotional relapse is when self-care goes by the wayside. This can include things like abandoning your recovery routines, poor hygiene, irregular sleep patterns, or binge eating unhealthy foods.
  • Mental Relapse: A mental relapse is when an individual begins to actively consider using again to cope with their emotional distress. In the early stages of mental relapse, this may include things like reminiscing previous times of previous drug use. However, this can quickly devolve into rationalizing or even planning out the logistics of buying or resuming drug use.
  • Physical Relapse: Physical relapse is the final stage of relapse. Unlike the other stages of relapse, physical relapse involves the active steps made to acquire drugs or alcohol. This can mean doing things like contacting a dealer or driving to the liquor store. Whatever the case may be, during this stage, the individual has begun taking active steps to acquire their substance of choice. During this stage of relapse, it is incredibly hard to stop an individual from using drugs or alcohol, and it will often end in a full relapse of drug or alcohol use.

Understanding these different stages can help you recognize the warning signs of early relapse and get help before it’s too late.

Relapse Warning Signs

Now that you know the three stages of relapse, it’s important to understand the warning signs that can accompany them. While relapse is a common step for many on their way towards recovery, it doesn’t always need to be. Understanding the warning signs of relapse can help you take action and keep them from progressing into a full-fledged relapse.

Some relapse warning signs include:

  • Changes in attitude such as thinking your recovery program isn’t as important as it once was
  • Elevated stress levels
  • Reactivation of denial
  • Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or sleeplessness
  • Behavioral changes such as avoidance or becoming defensive in situations where it is inappropriate
  • Becoming less social or withdrawing from social situations altogether
  • Abandonment of daily routines or schedules that once helped with sobriety
  • Making irrational choices or returning to social drinking or recreational drug use

A great way to combat these relapse warning signs is to create a relapse prevention plan. Examples of these can include things like understanding and making a list of ways to combat your triggers, or participating in a support group. Creating a relapse prevention plan is often an integral part of professional addiction recovery programming.

Beating Addiction at The Woods at Parkside

Beating Addiction at The Woods at Parkside

It’s important to remember that relapse is a part of recovery, not the end of it. For many people who go to rehab, relapsing into using drugs or alcohol is an experience that drives home the desire to get sober once and for all.

At The Woods at Parkside, located just outside Columbus, Ohio, we understand that relapse is a normal part of recovery. That’s why we’ve specifically tailored our treatment programs to help combat the underlying causes of addiction, and help give you the best possible chance of avoiding relapse.

At our treatment center, our drug and alcohol addiction team offer a multitude of treatment programs to best suit your individual needs. A few of the programs offered at The Woods at Parkside include:

If you have more questions about our treatment options, or if you’re still wondering, “what is relapse?” give us a call today at 419-452-4818. You can also contact us online using our confidential contact form. Whichever way you choose, beating addiction is within your reach at The Woods at Parkside. Contact us today to start your journey towards recovery.

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Please note: For medical emergencies, please call 911. For other urgent matters, please call our admissions line (419) 452-4818. Submissions after-hours, weekends, or holidays may experience a longer response time.

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