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Your recovery journey will continue post-treatment. Being in “the real world” will come with new challenges and stressors you didn’t have during treatment and could potentially lead to a relapse. Relapse prevention can help you manage cravings, strengthen coping skills, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Stages of Relapse

Being able to identify the early stages of relapse is a critical part of relapse prevention. Relapse doesn’t happen overnight, and the earlier you identify where you are in the stages of relapse, the easier it is to course-correct. Acknowledging your potential to relapse is critical for prevention.

#1. Emotional Relapse

This form of relapse occurs when you stop practicing healthy emotional coping mechanisms. This could include:

  • Bottling up emotions
  • Self-isolation
  • Not going to meetings
  • Not sharing at meetings
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits
  • General poor self-care

During this stage of relapse, you might be in denial that you are entering relapse and be resistant to help. A mental health professional will stress the importance of self-care and might encourage you to use HALT. When you are experiencing negative emotions, HALT makes you stop and think about the cause of your negative emotions, which are likely a result of being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. This encourages you to understand your emotions, making them easier to process.

#2. Mental Relapse

Mental relapsing is when you begin to think about using substances. During this phase, you’ll spend time bargaining and making excuses for why it might be okay to use while simultaneously struggling to resist these thoughts and maintain your sobriety. You might find yourself craving substances and romanticizing your past use of substances. Other behaviors associated with mental relapse include:

  • Minimizing consequences of past use of substances
  • Bargaining
  • Lying
  • Thinking of how you can better control using substances
  • Looking for relapse opportunities
  • Planning to relapse 

#3. Physical Relapse 

Physical relapse occurs when your substance use is resumed. If you try to hide your relapse from others, it will be impossible for the people in your support system to help you. Relapse shouldn’t be shameful and, with treatment, could become an essential growth point in your recovery.

High-Risk Relapse Situations

High-risk situations are circumstances that can trigger toxic behaviors and lead to relapse. These situations can include environmental, emotional, or physical aspects. During relapse prevention, a mental health professional will help you to identify these situations. Some high-risk situations might include:

  • Toxic beliefs: Expecting the effects of a consumed substance to soothe negative emotions
  • Toxic relationships: Continuing relationships with people who are disrespectful toward your sobriety, continue to use substances around you, or hurt your mental or physical health
  • Toxic environments: Going to places that remind you of using or make using more accessible; being in environments that trigger an uncontrollable trauma response
  • Lack of self-confidence: The belief that you are incompetent or incapable of changing negative behaviors and finding success in recovery
  • Emotional dysregulation: A lack of control over intense emotions can cause you to desire escapism, as negative emotions are among the most common motivation for substance use

Signs of Relapse in Later Recovery

Relapse can happen at any point in a person’s recovery. Some behaviors in later recovery that might lead to relapse include:

  • Not wanting your life to be all about recovery, so you stop going to meetings
  • Trying to make up for lost time so you take on more responsibilities and activities, leaving no time for self-care
  • Being bored with recovery meetings because you aren’t learning anything new, but meetings are crucial because they serve as reminders of the consequences of substance use
  • Thinking you should be beyond the recovery basics and embarrassed that you still experience cravings
  • No longer being sure that you have a substance use problem
  • Believing that since you have a better understanding of the substance, you can casually partake in it without relapse or negative consequences

Valuable Coping Strategies

Continued cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), participating in the recovery community, and practicing coping mechanisms post-treatment are the best methods for relapse prevention. The more you practice your coping mechanisms, the easier it will be to continue exhibiting positive behaviors. Some tips for relapse prevention include:

  • Finding new activities to replace the time that you use to spend using substances
  • Living a balanced life of work, self-care, fun, and relaxation
  • Practicing mindfulness and staying connected with your body and emotions
  • Being non-judgemental and accepting of your urges to use substances
  • Changing your life to make it easier for you not to use substances
  • Being honest with yourself and others
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Practicing self-care
  • Not bending recovery rules

Relapse is possible at any point in your recovery journey. Being honest with yourself and others, continuing treatment, and participating in recovery communities can decrease your risk of relapse. West Coast Recovery Centers can help you find your way back to a successful recovery. Our support team can assist you in identifying potential triggers to avoid and develop the tools you need to prevent future relapse. Substance use disorder requires maintenance, and our non-judgemental community and team of mental health professionals are here to provide you with the support you need. We know everyone goes through recovery differently, which is why we provide a multitude of recovery options so you can see what type of treatment is best for you. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call (760) 492-6509 to rediscover life through sustainable recovery.