What Does a Relapse Look Like and What Does it Mean?

Recovering addicts work hard to maintain their sobriety, but sometimes, people relapse and fall back into their old habits.

A relapse can happen to anyone at any time, and the reality is that many individuals in addiction treatment will experience a relapse at least once in their sobriety journey.
A relapse happens when someone who is getting sober, or has been sober for a long time, starts to use drugs or alcohol again. Relapses can be a one-time occurrence, or they can lead a person to revert back to their addictive behaviors after multiple attempts at sobriety.

Relapse in Recovery is Common

No one is immune from relapse during their recovery, even after they’ve been sober for many years. Relapses are sometimes common, and it doesn’t mean that a person’s treatment has failed or that they’re not strong enough to get sober.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40–60% of people who have received treatment for substance abuse will experience a relapse during their lifetime. The rates of addiction relapse are comparable to the relapse rates of some chronic health conditions, like asthma and hypertension.

Although relapses happen, they aren’t always unexpected. Relapses are usually triggered by certain people, places, experiences, or even feelings. During recovery, one of the ways that people can avoid relapse is to learn how to deal with their triggers without turning to substances.

what does a relapse mean

What Can Trigger a Relapse?

Regardless of how much time someone has spent sober, there are a number of triggers and experiences that can put a person at risk. Relapses are often caused by a series of events that play a role in its development.

Everyone’s triggers are different, but some of the most common ones include:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Poor self-care
  • Seeing people or visiting places that trigger cravings
  • Relationships
  • Being isolated
  • Mental and emotional triggers
  • Overconfidence

Recovering addicts usually suffer from both physical and emotional triggers. Physical triggers come in the form of physical cravings, where the body is actively looking for the high that drugs and alcohol can have.

However, mental triggers are just as dangerous. For example, if a person is failing to take care of their basic needs, like getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet, it can increase their risk of relapse, even if they’re not actively thinking about using.

Mental relapse is often a struggle because it’s an internal battle between wanting to maintain sobriety and wanting to use again. Because of the nature of addiction, there will always be an underlying urge to use, but the way a person responds to those cravings is what determines whether or not they actually relapse.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

Misconceptions Around Addiction Relapse

There’s a lot of stigma and misconceptions around relapses, especially when it comes to treatment.

Many people wrongfully assume that when someone relapses, it’s because their treatment wasn’t effective, or that they did something wrong.

In reality, relapses happen when someone experiences a trigger, and they get the overwhelming urge to use drugs or alcohol. It can happen when someone is actively in a treatment program, and it can also happen when someone is 10 years sober.

If someone relapses, it’s not a reflection of their treatment or their willpower; it just means that they need to alter their treatment approach. For someone who has been sober for a while, relapse means that it’s time to seek help again.

For example, someone who has recently relapsed can benefit from more frequent therapy sessions, or maybe medication to help manage a mental health disorder. A relapse doesn’t necessarily set someone back in their recovery. It just means they need to reset, change their approach, and recommit to sobriety.

Warning Signs of a Relapse

Relapses are preventable if you know the warning signs. It’s also important for people in recovery to recognize the triggers that put them at risk for relapse and work to avoid those situations. Sometimes, that involves ending relationships, dropping certain friends, and letting go of destructive behaviors.
Some of the common warning signs that someone is headed for relapse include:

  • Emotional changes, like moodiness and anger
  • Wishing they could relive the days when they used drugs or alcohol
  • Wanting to give up on recovery
  • Talking negatively about the treatment process
  • Self-isolation and avoidance of their support system
  • Hanging out with people who fueled their substance abuse
cocaine addiction treatment
During recovery, it’s common for people to think they can use again without ruining their sobriety completely. For example, someone who is recovering from alcohol addiction might be tempted by “one drink” and believe that it won’t trigger an addictive response.

However, addiction is a lifelong disease, and no matter how long someone has been sober, they will always experience cravings from time to time. Addicts often wrongfully think that using one time won’t jeopardize their sobriety. In reality, people in recovery who have that perspective are often the ones that end up relapsing.

If you’re a recovering addict, the thought of staying sober for the rest of your life can feel monumental and like a colossal responsibility. That’s why it’s important to take recovery one day at a time, rather than thinking about it in terms of “forever.”

When you focus on smaller chunks of time, recovery can feel more manageable. Set achievable goals in those windows of time to keep yourself motivated and committed to your sobriety. Thinking about it as a lifelong commitment can seem overwhelming, and it could set you up for a relapse.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, we’re here to help. Call us at (310) 881-9151 to speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

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