Understanding Addiction Relapse
You have been through rehab and you are now in recovery, but to ensure your lasting success, it will be important to be aware of the signs that might suggest you are at risk of an addiction relapse. Addiction relapse is not an event, it is a process and the earlier you can spot the signs in this process, the greater your chances of preventing it.
There are three recognised stages of relapse
- Emotional relapse – this is when how you are feeling starts to change. Emotional relapse is the same as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) which typically occurs as your brain chemistry gradually returns to normal. The levels of chemicals which regulate your emotions fluctuate until they reach a new equilibrium. During this stage your emotions will be all over the place, including mood swings, anxiety, depression, intolerance and a feeling of isolation. This in turn could lead you to stop looking after yourself as well, you may start eating badly, dropping your exercise routine or start slipping back in to your old negative patterns of behaviour and you stop asking for help.
If you are aware that this is likely to happen to you and it is a stage of the withdrawal process, it will be easier to accept and cope with than it would be if it takes you by surprise. It would be easy to interpret your emotional swings as a return to the negative feelings you were trying to escape when you drank. By recognising this as a stage, you can make a conscious effort to practice relaxation techniques and stick to your self-care plan.
- Mental addiction relapse – the second stage in the relapse process is when you start to get urges to drink again. You may find yourself thinking about it more and fantasizing in your head about how it would feel to have a drink.
This is when it is important to remind yourself constantly about what a negative downward spiral you were in when you were drinking and how disappointed you would be in yourself if you did relapse. Instead of pretending this is not happening to you, do not struggle alone. Tell someone what is going on and seek help. Talk it through with your counsellor.
You should try to keep yourself busy and distract yourself from the urges you might be feeling. Do not give in to them instantly – decide that you will wait half an hour and go and have a bath or do something else. Make relaxation part of your daily routine.
- Physical addiction relapse – this is the point that most people consider to be the actual relapse and once you return to drinking, this is when it becomes much harder to stop again. If you can recognise the process that leads to this stage you will minimise your chances of reaching this point.
By understanding why and how recovering alcoholics end up relapsing and being aware of the stages that you might go through, you might be able to stop the process from developing too far to a full physical addiction relapse.