One of the important truths everyone who has faced addiction learns is that there is no cure. Addiction changes your life in ways that mean you will need to be aware of and manage your addiction even years after your last relapse. For many, fighting to avoid the negative consequences of allowing addiction to run its course, a relapse can feel like a severe failure and challenge your belief that real change is possible.
Learning how to stop relapsing is a key step toward escaping from the addiction cycle. By being aware of the signs you may be heading toward a relapse, you can change the pattern and learn to avoid going down that road again.
Stages Of Addiction Relapse
When you think of a relapse, you probably think of returning to using the substance to which you are addicted. You may even believe that a relapse only occurs when you overuse the substance or use the substance in a way that negatively impacts your life. However, the physical relapse is just the final stage, and the one in which stopping the process is most difficult.
The addiction relapse cycle has three distinct stages:
- Emotional relapse. During this stage, you are not thinking of using again, yet. However, your emotions and behaviors are leading you toward using again.
- Mental relapse. In this stage of the relapse, you are thinking of using the substance you are addicted to again. As your thoughts progress, you become much more
likely to succumb to a physical relapse.
- Physical relapse. At this stage, you give in to the desire to use the substance again.
Recognizing the signs of each stage and being aware of the best relapse-prevention techniques can help you defeat the relapse cycle.
Emotional Relapse Symptoms
Recognizing that addiction springs from thoughts and behaviors that underlie the physical substance use is a key to fighting the root cause of addiction. With that in mind, recognizing and addressing the emotional relapse stage is key to defeating chronic addiction relapse.
Key symptoms of emotional relapse include:
- Irritability and anger
- Mood swings
- Isolation and defensiveness
- Avoiding meetings
- Negative changes in eating and sleeping habits
The emotional and behavioral issues that resulted in your addiction do not go away overnight, after a few weeks in rehab, or even a few months of living clean. Patterns of thought and behavior take years to change and require constant positive reinforcement.
Recognizing these symptoms of emotional relapse is key at this point. The emotional relapse stage is the easiest from which to pull back. Taking action at this point gives you the greatest opportunity to stop chronic addiction relapse.
Mental Relapse Symptoms
As the emotional relapse stage progresses, you may find yourself beginning to think about using the substance to which you are addicted once again. This process usually starts with a brief idle thought in the early stages, but if this relapse is not arrested, it will become an all-consuming idea that you cannot avoid.
In this stage, you may begin thinking about the people you used to use with, or places you went. You will find yourself lying to others as you cover up the fact that you are progressing in the relapse cycle. Eventually, you will begin fantasizing about using again and planning your relapse for times when you will not be caught.
This part of the relapse often feels like a war is taking place inside your mind. At this stage, you still want to avoid the physical stage of relapse, but you find that the more you attempt to avoid thinking about using again, the stronger and more frequent the thoughts come. The longer this stage progresses, the harder it is to pull back from the end stage of the relapse cycle.
For many people, the focus of preventing a relapse is solely on this stage of the cycle. Unfortunately, by the time you progress to the point at which you have decided to take a drink, use prescription or illegal drugs or opiates, it is very difficult to pull back from the relapse.
You may be able to stop the relapse here through a strong exertion of will, but if the underlying emotions and thoughts that brought you to this point are not dealt with, you only set yourself up for failure at a later point. True recovery must spend the majority of the time addressing the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that led you to the physical relapse.
How to Stop Relapsing: Ending The Chronic Relapse Cycle
The first line of defense in battling chronic relapse is getting the proper rehabilitation therapy. Your rehab program should prepare you from the start to deal with the emotional and mental stages of a relapse. Physical relapse is often part of the journey toward defeating your addiction, but it is not inevitable. By taking part in a rehab program that prepares you by teaching relapse-prevention techniques, you can put an end to chronic relapse in your life.
Your rehabilitation should prepare you by helping you put a plan in place to recognize the symptoms of the emotional and mental stages of a relapse. It should give you the tools to deal with the problem at those stages.
There are several therapies that can help you be successful over the emotional and mental stages of relapse:
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Motivational enhancement therapy
Your rehabilitation program should tailor the therapy you receive to better address the particular struggles you face in overcoming addiction. There is no magic bullet to knock out addiction – your issues are unique, even if your struggle is not. By intensively preparing you for relapse prevention from the beginning, your rehab program can help you overcome the triggers that send you down the path toward relapse.