Medical professionals consider substance abuse a chronic disease, meaning you’ll deal with it in one form or another for the rest of your life. In this respect, addiction is no different than any other chronic condition, such as back pain, high blood pressure, or diabetes. And as with these other diseases, sustained sobriety depends on staying vigilant and consistent with your care plan.
So when you take that first step outside of drug or alcohol rehab, your recovery journey isn’t over. On the contrary, it’s just beginning. Now is the time to apply all the things you learned about combating negative thoughts and behaviors, dealing with deep emotions, and handling the stress of daily life without substances.
Relapse, or slipping back into our addictions, remains a constant threat. Statistics show that 40% to 60% of substance abuse patients relapse, roughly the same rate as those with other chronic illnesses. However, even though relapse is often a normal part of recovery, we would like to do our best to avoid it.
The good news is that new medications and more holistic treatment programs, like those in Christian-based rehabilitation centers, are decreasing relapse rates and strengthening recovery when relapse occurs.
3 Stages of Relapse
Relapse doesn’t happen overnight. You can generally divide it into three stages – emotional, mental, and physical. At each level, your mind and body will warn you in different ways, and it’s up to you and your loved ones to pay attention to those signs when they arise.
You may not even be aware of a potential relapse at this point, and those around you likely will pick up on the signs well before you do. These include drastic mood swings, increased irritability, erratic sleeping patterns, poor nutrition, and neglect of self-care.
Missing support meetings and dropping out of sober fun activities also can signal trouble ahead. Addiction and mental health issues thrive in isolation, so as you separate yourself from critical support structures, you leave yourself more vulnerable to potential triggers.
The good idea is to examine your work, family, and social situations closely. Are there new or recurrent stressors increasing your anxiety and putting additional strain on your relationships? Have you neglected healthy habits like exercise and meditation? Taking a personal inventory and making even minor changes can help improve your emotional state.
If you or someone else doesn’t intervene when you exhibit emotional distress, you can experience a mental relapse. At this point, your risk of physical relapse, actually using drugs or drinking alcohol, rises exponentially.
That’s because you’re in an active battle against yourself. Your cravings are at an all-time high, and part of you begins to fantasize about substances, rationalizing that “just one drink or hit” won’t be that bad. You convince yourself that you’re still in control and that you can handle using substances to escape a little.
Meanwhile, the other part of you is struggling harder and harder to justify why sobriety continues to be the better, healthier option. Doubting your recovery process, feeling defeated and depressed, and continued isolation represent the hallmarks of this stage.
Consider waiting out cravings by distracting yourself with a hobby or relaxing breathing techniques. Reaching out to a trusted peer or substance abuse mentor and talking through the feelings you’re experiencing will also help.
This final stage means you have again started actively using substances. You’ll recognize the signs – hanging out with old friends with whom you used to drink or use drugs, glamorizing substance use, lying, and separating from friends who are still active in their recovery. But all is not lost.
Relapse Isn’t Permanent, Nor Is Failure
Regardless of your level or even if you have already relapsed, it’s critical to remember that practicing self-awareness and getting help immediately can put you back on your recovery path. As a faith-based treatment center, we believe that because of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ, it’s never too late for anyone to come back to recovery and try again.
We make mistakes every day in recovery. Sometimes those lead to hurting ourselves or someone else, either emotionally or physically. In the 12 Steps, we learn that we can work to improve ourselves and make restitution for the wrongs we have committed. We may stumble once, twice, or any number of times during this process. Each time we get up on our feet again, we can learn valuable lessons about ourselves and, with this knowledge, grow stronger.
Failure only happens when we stop trying, which is easy to do when we believe we must navigate recovery all on our own. Thankfully, that’s not the case. You have access to numerous recovery resources, many of them free of charge. These can include caring family and friends, therapists, peers in recovery, support groups, religious congregations, national crisis lines, and state-run and private addiction recovery center professionals.
A great place to start is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, operated by the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services. Another option for ideas on managing recovery and preventing relapse is to call us directly at 855-736-7262.