"*" indicates required fields

Stages of Relapse

learn how to prevent a future relapse and stop the vicious cycle of addiction

Relapse is a common occurrence for individuals struggling with addiction. It is a process that involves various stages, and understanding these stages can help individuals recognize the warning signs and take appropriate action to prevent a full-blown relapse. The stages of relapse are not always linear, and individuals may experience them in a different order or skip some stages altogether.

What Does It Mean to Relapse?

Relapse is a term used to describe the recurrence of substance use after a period of abstinence or recovery. It is a common occurrence in the journey of overcoming addiction. When an individual relapses, they return to using drugs or alcohol after making efforts to quit or reduce their consumption.

Relapse can occur at any stage of recovery, and it does not necessarily signify a failure in the treatment process. It is often viewed as a temporary setback that requires adjustments to the individual’s treatment plan and coping strategies. Relapse can be triggered by various factors, including stress, environmental cues, social pressure, or underlying mental health issues.

It is crucial to recognize that relapse is a part of the recovery process for many individuals struggling with substance use disorders. With proper support, guidance, and a willingness to learn from the experience, individuals can regain their footing and continue their journey towards long-term recovery. Treatment providers and support systems play a vital role in helping individuals navigate the stages of relapse and develop strategies to prevent future occurrences.

The 3 Stages of Relapse Explained

Relapse is a gradual process that often occurs in three distinct stages for individuals recovering from substance use disorder. Understanding these stages of relapse can help individuals recognize the warning signs and develop effective coping skills to maintain their recovery.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

The first stage of relapse, known as the emotional relapse stage, involves emotional and mental changes that can serve as early warning signs. Individuals may experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability, or a general sense of unease. They may also engage in negative thinking patterns, such as minimizing the consequences of addiction or glamorizing past use experiences. It is crucial to recognize these relapse warning signs and address them promptly to prevent further progression towards a full-blown relapse. The other two stages include physically relapsing and a mental relapse stage.

Developing Coping Strategies

The second stage, or the mental relapse stage, involves developing coping strategies to manage the warning signs and prevent a physical relapse. This may involve attending support group meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, engaging in individual or group therapy sessions, practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques, or seeking support from loved ones. It is essential to have a solid relapse prevention plan in place and to consistently implement these coping strategies to maintain sobriety.

Building a Resilient Recovery

The third stage focuses on building a resilient recovery by addressing the underlying issues that contributed to drug or alcohol abuse in the first place. This may involve addressing co-occurring mental health disorders, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and establishing a strong support system.

It is also important to engage in activities that promote overall well-being, such as exercise, healthy eating habits, and engaging in hobbies or interests. By addressing these factors, individuals can strengthen their recovery and reduce the risk of future relapses.

warning signs of relapse opportunities to avoid an addictive substance

Emotional Relapse Stage

In the context of addiction recovery, an emotional relapse refers to the initial stage where individuals experience intense cravings and a strong desire to use drugs or alcohol again. This phase often precedes a physical relapse and involves a shift in attitudes, negative emotions, and behaviors that increase the risk of returning to substance use.

During an emotional relapse, individuals may exhibit signs of poor self-care, increased stress levels, and a diminished commitment to their recovery goals.

Emotional relapses can manifest in various ways, such as denial of the problem, mood swings, anger, and isolation and is similar to a mental relapse. Individuals may start to romanticize their past drug or alcohol use experiences, minimizing the negative consequences they faced. They may also begin to engage in behaviors that put them at greater risk, such as associating with people or visiting places linked to their previous substance misuse.

Mental Relapse

A mental relapse occurs when an individual experiences a shift in mindset, leading them to consider engaging in substance abuse behaviors again. The mental relapse stage often follows an emotional relapse and can be triggered by various factors, such as stress, environmental cues, or negative thought patterns. Recognizing the warning signs of a mental relapse is crucial for maintaining sobriety and preventing a full-blown physical relapse.

Physical Relapse

A physical relapse, the final stage of the relapse process, occurs when an individual resumes the consumption of drugs or alcohol after a period of abstinence. This stage represents the culmination of a process that often begins with an emotional and mental relapse. During the physical stage of relapse, the individual actively engages in substance use, potentially leading to a full-blown return to addictive behaviors.

The physical relapse stage can manifest in various ways, ranging from a single lapse to a complete descent into active addiction.

It is crucial to recognize the signs and take immediate action to prevent further escalation. Seeking support from professionals, attending support group meetings, or considering inpatient or outpatient programs may be necessary to regain control and recommit to recovery.

Tips to Help You Avoid Relapsing

Overcoming substance abuse and maintaining sobriety is a continuous journey that requires dedication and effort. Relapse is a common occurrence, but it is not an inevitable outcome. By cultivating a positive mindset and establishing healthy routines, individuals can increase their chances of sustaining long-term recovery and preventing the stages of relapse from taking hold.

Cultivating a Positive Mindset

A positive and resilient mindset plays a crucial role in preventing relapse. It involves recognizing and challenging negative thought patterns, practicing self-compassion, and focusing on personal growth. Engaging in activities that promote mental well-being, such as mindfulness meditation, journaling, or seeking support from a therapist or support group, can help individuals develop a more constructive outlook and cope with the emotional and mental aspects of recovery.

Establishing Healthy Routines

Developing and adhering to healthy routines can provide structure and stability, which are essential for maintaining sobriety and preventing the stages of relapse. This may include regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and engaging in enjoyable hobbies or activities. Additionally, it is important to identify and avoid potential triggers that may increase the risk of relapse, such as certain social situations or environments associated with past drug abuse.

Self-Care after an Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse, a precursor to mental and physical relapsing, involves experiencing intense emotions and cravings without acting on them. During this stage, individuals may feel irritable, angry, or experience mood swings.

They may also experience intrusive thoughts about substance abuse. It’s crucial to practice both emotional and physical self-care techniques to prevent progression through the stages of relapse. Engaging in healthy self-care activities like exercise, meditation, or seeking support from a therapist or support group can help manage these emotions and cravings and help individuals develop coping skills.

warning signs of relapse opportunities to avoid an addictive substance

Substance Abuse Relapse Treatment Options

If an individual experiences a physical relapse after a period of sobriety, it is crucial to seek professional assistance promptly. A relapse does not signify failure; it is a temporary setback that can be overcome with the appropriate support and treatment. Individuals should contact their addiction treatment center, therapist, or support group for guidance on the next steps. Seeking help immediately can prevent a full-blown relapse and facilitate a quicker return to recovery.

Inpatient Programs

Addiction treatment centers offer various programs to address relapses, including inpatient and outpatient options. Inpatient programs provide a structured environment with around-the-clock supervision and support, allowing individuals to focus solely on their recovery.

Outpatient Care

Outpatient programs offer flexibility, enabling individuals to receive treatment while maintaining their daily responsibilities. Both approaches may incorporate individual counseling, group therapy, medication-assisted treatment, and other evidence-based interventions tailored to the individual’s needs.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

For individuals with co-occurring mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, seeking treatment for both the substance use disorder and the mental health condition is essential. Dual diagnosis programs integrate drug and alcohol addiction treatment with mental health services, ensuring a comprehensive approach to both early recovery and long-term relapse addiction prevention.

Support Groups

Individuals may also find that peer-led support groups can be helpful in both early recovery and long-term sobriety. Community-based support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are a great way for individuals to connect with others in their community who understand their struggles with addiction, understand relapse prevention, build healthy coping skills, and practice accountability. Meetings can be found in local areas and can be located through the AA website.

Get Started with Addiction Recovery

Individuals struggling with substance abuse may require professional assistance to overcome addiction and prevent relapse. Inpatient programs, also known as residential treatment, provide a structured environment for individuals to focus solely on early recovery. These programs typically involve individual counseling, group therapy sessions, and various therapies tailored to address underlying issues contributing to addiction.

At Rockland Recovery, our compassionate team of professionals is dedicated to helping you achieve long-term sobriety. Contact us through our secure online form or give us a call at (855) 732-4842 to learn more about our addiction treatment programs and our relapse prevention methodologies.

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.


Take the First Step Toward Recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we encourage you to request a confidential call to explore treatment options, ask questions, and receive support from experienced professionals. We know taking this first step can be challenging, but it’s a courageous and important part of the recovery journey.

"*" indicates required fields


"*" indicates required fields

Other Posts