There is no chronic disease with a zero percent relapse rate. Whether you’re talking about diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure or addiction, the people who struggle with these afflictions may have an occasional slip or even a huge setback after they’ve found recovery. While relapses require compassion and support, they are also a potentially life-threatening risk, so it is important to develop strategies to prevent them whenever possible.
Is Relapse Imminent?
According to an article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, relapses are easy to identify before a person in recovery ever ingests alcohol or other drugs because:
- Relapses have several distinct steps that can begin days, weeks or even months before sobriety is broken.
- Each stage of recovery is associated with specific relapse risks.
- Most relapses follow a few basic rules that patients can learn.
What Are the Top Causes of Relapse?
A number of factors can contribute to a substance abuse relapse. These can vary, depending on the unique traits of each individual, but there are some common triggers:
- Dangerous Times – including a big transition (like leaving treatment), a big anniversary in your recovery, a big life event in general, or whenever a solid recovery plan is not in place or being followed.
- Dangerous Places – these include places where you frequently used or acquired substances.
- Dangerous People – the same people you used to drink or get high with, or anyone who pressures you to give up your recovery.
- Dangerous Thoughts – those thoughts that allow you to justify using again.
Top Causes of Relapse: What to Look For
According to the Yale article, there are three primary stages of relapse, all of which carry their own risk factors:
1. Emotional Relapse: When a person in recovery might not be actively thinking about using but are ignoring their self-care needs and not following good recovery practices consistently. Their behavior might look like:
- Bottling up emotions
- Self-imposed isolation
- Avoiding meetings
- Attending meetings without fully participating
- Trying to draw attention away from themselves and toward others
- Lapsing into poor eating and sleeping habits
2. Mental Relapse: In this second stage, a person may have started contemplated using again and how they would justify this action. They are probably not working their recovery plan or are just going through the motions. Their behavior might look like:
- Having cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Thinking about and possibly glorifying people, places, and things from past use
- Minimizing consequences of past use
- Using bargaining behaviors
- Being dishonest
- Looking for relapse opportunities and starting to plan their relapse
3. Physical Relapse: This is the final stage of a relapse, when a person actually uses alcohol or other drugs. This phase may not commence for quite some time after the person has begun an emotional relapse.
How to Proceed with Relapse Prevention
If a friend or loved one is showing signs of pending relapse, the earlier you can help, the better. You might try talking to your loved one about the importance of therapy and self-care in the first stage of relapse. Spending more time with them and supporting them in maintaining a structured routine that includes recovery meetings, time for meditation or mindfulness, sober socialization, exercise, and sleep could go a long way at this stage.
By the second stage, friends and family members will likely need to work with professionals to get their loved one back on track. A therapist, substance abuse counselor, or sponsor may be needed to help the person regain a recovery mindset. Loved ones can still provide emotional support and encouragement.
In the final stage, the individual may need to re-enter treatment or at least spend some serious time working on strengthening their recovery plan so that they can learn from this situation and prevent further relapses.
We Can Help
Are you concerned your friend or family member is in danger from one or more of these top causes of relapse? If you are worried that your loved one could be on the path to relapse, Safe Harbor Recovery Center has trained professionals who can assist you in determining what needs to happen next.