stages of relapse

Just as no two people will suffer substance addiction in the same way, when in recovery, no two people will experience relapses for identical reasons. If you are a recovering addict, you are experiencing and suffering stressful conditions that are unique to you. Those unique stresses and challenges, however, typically reflect a three-phase catalyst that likely led to your relapse and that challenged the success of your recovery.

Emotional Relapse

Your emotional state is the first of these three phases. If you’re in a recovery program, you’ve made a conscious and logical commitment to breaking a substance abuse habit, but if you have not taken steps to eliminate the stresses and conditions that fostered your addiction, your emotions will trump your conscious and logical choice. For example, you may be experiencing anxiety or depression. You might subconsciously berate your weakness for allowing yourself to become addicted. You may have a weak or unsupportive social network or you may shy away from recovery or treatment groups out of your fears of being judged. If you fail to address and reduce these emotional elements that first encouraged your addiction, your chances of relapsing will be greater.

Mental Relapse

Your mental state is the second phase. If you start a rehab and recovery program but don’t fully commit yourself to it, you are setting yourself up for a relapse. You might place greater emphasis on the good feelings that your substance addiction created over its adverse effects and destructive consequences. If you continue to associate with the same people who enabled your addiction or you convince yourself that relapses are an expected part of your recovery program, you’re establishing a mental state that will defeat your recovery.

Physical Relapse

The third and final phase is your physical condition and your response to withdrawing from the addictive substance. Physical withdrawal can challenge the strongest-willed person. Some highly-addictive drugs like heroin and methamphetamine create changes in your brain structure that can undermine your will power even after you go through an initial withdrawal from the drug. You can find yourself with a bottle of liquor or in your drug dealer’s alley without even considering the consequences of your actions.

Your recovery counselors and treatment program will provide the tools you need to avoid this three-phase trap. When you get an urge to use some substance, they may tell you, for example, to think about not just a one-time use, but of the things that will happen after that use. Will you need more than just a single dose? Will you sober up and experience self-loathing and disappointment? Are you willing to lose everything you have worked hard to gain in recovery? Focusing on aftereffects such as these can be strong deterrents.

Your counselor may also recommend meditation or relaxation techniques, or even something as simple as taking a short time-out before the three phases of relapse derail your recovery. The key is to practice and use the tools that your counselor gives you.


Even with those tools, you can still experience a relapse. If that happens, please contact our staff at Hired Power at your earliest convenience at 800-910-9299. Our counselors will help get your recovery back on track before the three phases of relapse and your substance addictions take control of your life.

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