Understanding Relapse: Stages, Triggers, And How Counseling Can Lead To Recovery

There are times when people who quit their addiction suddenly go back to their harmful habits. This period is called a relapse. But what exactly happens during a relapse? Let’s take a look at its different stages and triggers and how counseling can help people bounce back from a relapse period.

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What Is A Relapse?

A relapse is a common occurrence in many people who are recovering from any form of addiction. A relapse can be described as the sudden worsening of a condition that had previously improved. During this time, a person may slip back to their former behavior or habits.   For example, a person who stopped drinking for several months may suddenly experience relapse and start drinking again at an alarming rate.

Relapsing naturally happens during the recovery process. Many people who are trying to overcome addiction may experience several relapses before they finally succeed in quitting. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around 40 to 60 people with drug addiction experience relapse. When a person experiences relapse, their physician must be notified right away to avoid potential harm to themselves or others.  

What Are The Stages Of Relapse?

Many people fail to realize that there’s a process when it comes to relapse. Relapse is not a sudden moment; instead, it goes through different stages over time. It’s essential to know its various stages to understand better how to prevent relapse from happening.

The following are the stages of relapse:

  • Emotional Relapse: 

In this stage, the person is not yet involved in his addiction. However, they begin to experience some of the emotions they used to feel while suffering from addiction. 

Poor self-care might be one of the leading causes of emotional relapse. A recovering person must know how to maintain themselves physically and psychologically. This involves a healthy diet, good sleeping habits, proper hygiene, and practicing self-kindness.

  • Mental Relapse

During this period, individuals who have been troubled by emotional relapse for so long might start to feel uncomfortable and restless. This stage feels like a mental battle for any recovering person. A part of themselves wants to alleviate their restlessness with their addiction, while the other part doesn’t want to relapse. 

The confusion in their minds leads to increased irritability and looking for ways and opportunities to relapse. They may start to bargain about their addiction and romanticize the life they were living before. During this time, resisting relapse gets more complicated. 

  • Physical Relapse

This is the penultimate stage of relapse, and it involves returning to the previous unhealthy habits and addiction. This stage may last for a day, weeks, or even months. Physical relapse continues when the individual has lots of opportunities to go back to their old habits.

When a person experiences a relapse, it’s an indication that they need to return for treatment or counseling sessions. They might also be asked to join meetings that will help them to reach recovery.

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What Are Its Common Triggers?

Various kinds of triggers may set off a relapse for a recovering person. Remember that each person has different sets of triggers that they have to take into account. Knowing your triggers is essential in recovering from your addiction and maintaining a better lifestyle.

Each person may act differently when presented with a trigger. To those with solid coping skills and a supportive group of friends and family, facing their triggers might be manageable. 

Here are some of the common triggers:

  • Stress: This may be the leading trigger of relapse. When a recovering person is stressed and overwhelmed, their chances of relapsing are high. This is true most especially if their primary coping mechanism to stress is their addiction. 
  • Specific people or places: For some, a particular place or a person may make a strong response that may lead to a relapse. People might invite you to drink, or an area may remind you of memories of your past lifestyle.
  • Strong or challenging emotions: People tend to hide away from harmful and challenging emotions. More often than not, this leads to confusion and internal turmoil that would lead to a relapse.
  • Being in contact with the object of your addiction: Seeing or sensing objects of your addiction can be a strong trigger. For example, a drinking or smoking addiction can be triggered by seeing liquor bottles or smelling a whiff of smoke. 

How To Respond To Relapse?

When a relapse happens, the focus must be on bringing back the individual to recover. This is the time when the presence of supportive family and friends is most important. Beyond that, there’s always the support that therapists can give through counseling sessions.

There is a kind of intervention called Relapse Prevention Therapy that aims to prevent relapses through therapy. With this therapy, the individual can anticipate future circumstances that may lead them to relapse.

The individual is also taught different coping skills that will be helpful when they have the urge to go back to their addiction. They will be able to manage their emotions when confronted by high-risk situations.

More so, RPT and other counseling methods help individuals to see their relapse from a different perspective. Instead of interpreting their relapse as a sign of failure, they can see it as an opportunity to grow and learn.

With the right support from family, friends, and professionals alike, individuals can triumph over their relapse and continue their recovery. 

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Relapsing might seem to be a step backward, but it’s a natural part of the healing process. Experiencing relapse must not be seen as a sign of weakness or failure. More so, a relapse does not stop a person’s progress towards recovery. 

For those undergoing recovery from addiction, a solid support system is a must. These people must also understand the frustrations that relapses can bring about to the recovering person. It’s during these difficult times that more support and love must be given.