Stages of a Relapse

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Stages of a Relapse

It is often said that relapse is a part of recovery, and while this does not necessarily have to be true, it is often that relapsing is a part of someone’s journey to recovery. Relapsing is the greatest fear for many people who are sober. Going back to the old ways of deceit and hurting those around us is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. After escaping the clutches of addiction, being freed from the loneliness and despair that it brought, going back is just about the most awful thing that you can imagine. This fear of relapsing is healthy, although often overestimated, because a relapse does not occur in a vacuum, void of signs or symptoms, and so in this regard relapsing is completely avoidable, if you know what to look for. If you attended a treatment program hopefully a relapse prevention plan was discussed and one made specifically for you. If not be assertive and ask your therapist about making one for yourself.  Part of getting sober involves advocating for yourself.

Few if any people I have ever heard of, just woke up one day and out of the blue decided to get high or drunk after a period of sobriety, although at the time they may have felt that it occurred that way. In reality, their decision to take a drink or drug began weeks, months, or years before the actual action was taken, and so understanding and seeing these signs, a sober individual can begin to defend against them and in turn protect their sobriety from a relapse.

Stages of a Relapse

Just because the stages leading to a relapse are often predictable does not mean that the person who is experiencing them is aware of what is going on. Since the disease of alcoholism and addiction centers in the mind, the addict or alcoholic is often the last person to know when something is going on with them. So a person may be well on their way to a relapse and be completely unaware that this is happening. This is why it is extremely important to have people in your life that will share openly and honestly with you, because often the people around us are a mirror in which we can see ourselves, and without this mirror we can often get lost.

Preceding the relapse individuals usually begin to distance themselves from recovery related activities. This may mean that they stop going to as many meetings, or they stop going to certain meetings like their home group, they may leave treatment early, they may stop speaking to their support group as often and begin to isolate more, but no matter how their distancing manifests itself, it is usually a sign that the individual is about to enter into the stages of a relapse.

  1. The first stage of a relapse is a shifting in their attitude. This may be subtle at first and many people may not notice it, but after a time there becomes a marked increase in feelings of stress, irritation, impatience, depression, and anxiety. During this shift in attitude the person, who is probably already isolating, will isolate further as their mind begins to tell them that no one can help them and that people don’t understand what they are going through.  This is one of the most dangerous lies that the mind of an alcoholic or addict can conjure up because it not only seeks to reinforce the negative thoughts and feelings, but it also shuts down the mind to any outside help. Once the alcoholic or addict begins to have this shift in attitude and they begin to believe that no one can help them, it is a slippery slope towards relapse.


  1. The second stage is often centered on romanticizing the “good old days” of using. Where the alcoholic or addict begins to forget the negative aspects of their using and can only focus on the good times. This is usually the direct result of the prolonged feelings associated with their shift in attitude, because feeling depressed or isolated for an extended period of time can lead someone to start to believe that their drinking or drugging was not so bad. During this time there is usually an increased sense of agitation, and restlessness, and the idea that drugs or alcohol will bring about relief may start to overtake a person’s mind. This stage in a sense is a vicious cycle, as the feelings reinforce themselves, making their presence stronger, which in turn makes the desire to drink or drug greater. People who have reached this stage of a relapse need to seek out help if they are too avoid going back to a drink or drug.


  1. The third stage of a relapse ends with the individual drinking or drugging. Once a person gets to this stage in the relapse process there may possibly be visible behaviors or actions indicating that a relapse is imminent. The alcoholic or addict has more than likely cut off all ties to recovery and is actively ignoring phone calls. They more than likely will deny that they are thinking about using and even if asked they will tell everyone that they are okay. In fact this question will mostly annoy them and you may see outbursts when this question is posed. They may start to display old behaviors such as lying, being prone to angry outbursts, or being evasive. At this point the individual will usually begin to reconnect with old using friends, or when this is not possible they will start to search around the fringes of their respective 12-step program for people whom they think may or may not be using. At some point in the midst of all of this the alcoholic or addict will pick up again.

For many people who have been sober for an extended period of time their relapses usually do not last very long. This is in part because of the saying, “nothing will ruin your drinking like a head full of AA and a belly full of booze” and because once the cycle of recovery and relapse start, it is usually exceedingly difficult for the person to keep it together for long periods of time. If the person is lucky they will hopefully make it back their 12-step program relatively undamaged, but unfortunately many do not make it back and end up dying during their relapse.  As easy as it is to tell that someone is heading towards a relapse, it can also be exceedingly difficult to combat, so if you related with any of the above information, reach out to someone today. It is never too late to change the path you’re on and in doing so avoid the horrors of a relapse.

This weeks post is a guest post by Rose Lockinger.  Rose is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing. You can find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

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