The Stages of Addiction Relapse (And How to Get through Them)

Relapse occurs in roughly half of all addiction treatment programs. This does not mean that the treatment was a failure, nor does it mean that the person is a failure. Addictions take a long time to form, and their effects last a lifetime. The goal of addiction treatment is to control how your body reacts to those effects.

In this guide from MHR Memphis, we will look at the stages of addiction relapse and how to avoid a complete relapse.

Stage 1: Emotional Relapse

An emotional relapse may not feel like a relapse at all. This usually occurs when a person thinks back on the last time he or she drank/used drugs. The memory was most likely negative and something that the person does not want to relive again.

While this sounds like a positive experience, it can be the start of a downward slope. A person in this stage may become more reserved than usual. They stop speaking out at group meetings, or they share less with their therapist. They may withdraw from social gatherings or devote a lot of energy to helping others solve their problems. These actions are meant to distract the person from the bad memories, but they may spark addictive behaviors over time.

What to Do during an Emotional Relapse

Since this is the earliest stage of addiction relapse, it is the easiest to combat. If you find yourself becoming more socially isolated, talk to your therapist or sponsor. Talk about the memories you may not want to face, and work with your support system to sort through your emotions. Eat well, get solid rest at night, and remember to care for yourself just as much as you care for others.

If you do not have an addiction therapist at this time, contact MHR Memphis at (901) 682-6136. We will match you with an addiction counselor in Memphis, TN to teach you how to control addiction cravings and how to avoid relapsing.

Stage 2: Mental Relapse

Mental addiction relapse is the result of prolonged isolation and limited self-care. In this stage, the mind is torn between wanting to stay sober and wanting to use again. The emotional relapse may have caused the person to become depressed and irritable. The person may rationalize that those emotions can be cured with an addictive substance – no matter how prevalent the negative memories may be.

Unfortunately, the signs of mental and emotional relapse may go unnoticed. The only person who can recognize the relapse is the person in recovery. Addiction therapists are trained to watch for these signs, but many of them are completely internal. These include:

  • Making future plans to relapse
  • Lying about thoughts, feelings or urges
  • Looking for opportunities to relapse
  • Thinking about situations and people associated with relapse
  • Intentionally planning to be in the wrong place at the wrong time
  • Reassessing the value of an addictive substance (making it seem more important, or making relapse seem less damaging)
  • Craving addictive substances
What to Do during a Mental Relapse

To prevent a mental relapse from turning into a physical relapse, follow these tips:

  • Call someone. This can be a friend, your therapist, your sponsor, a family member – reach out to someone you trust. Talk to them about your feelings. Simply saying the words out loud may make you rethink the relapse. MHR Memphis offers emergency support and crisis intervention on a daily basis. Contact us at 901-682-6136 if you need someone to talk to.
  • Think about the true consequences of addiction relapse. You know that it won’t happen “just this once.” Giving in to your temptations will set you back on an unpleasant path. If your urges are strong now, they will be even stronger after relapse. You can avoid that by prevening your mental relapse from turning physical.
  • Take a 30-minute break. Whatever you are planning to do, wait 30 minutes. Re-evaluate your urges and wait for the impulses to calm down. Watch a TV show or read a chapter in a book you love. You might be surprised by how much changes in 30 minutes.
  • Focus on getting through today. The idea of staying sober can seem overwhelming. Instead of viewing it as a lifelong commitment, focus on staying sober today. If you wake up tomorrow with urges, focus on getting through that day. Break up your sobriety into manageable chunks, and you’ll feel much more in control of your recovery.
Stage 3: Physical Relapse

This is the final stage of addiction relapse. During physical relapse, a person gives in to his or her urges and decides to use again. For some, this is a one-time experience. The relapse solidifies their commitment to recovery, and they immerse themselves in the treatment process. For others, relapse sparks a transition back to addiction, or it increases the risk of relapsing later on.

Relapse does not make you a failure. We will emphasize that time and time again. If you have gone through a relapse though, you need to take steps to prevent another one in the future. Continue to Part 2 to learn what to do after addiction relapse.

** Announcement **
Our practice location at 5400 Poplar Ave Suite 100, Memphis TN 38119 has closed on Friday, March 15, 2024. It has been our privilege to support your wellbeing at our East Memphis location, and we look forward to continuing your treatment at one of our three (3) other practice locations. Reach out to schedule an appointment today!