According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between forty and sixty percent of people in recovery experience a relapse and end up requiring further medical attention. Contrary to popular belief, relapse does not happen at random. Stress and other environmental triggers can impact people who have been sober for years. Knowing the ten stages of a relapse can help you anticipate whether your newfound sobriety is in jeopardy, so you can seek help before it is too late.
Stage One: Denial
Prior to relapsing, you may feel concerned about your own well-being or others may voice fears about your health. You will dismiss this apprehensiveness and pretend that everything is fine.
Stage Two: Avoidance and Defensive Behavior
During the second stage, you will begin to convince yourself that turning back to your old habits is not in the cards. To divert attention away from your own situation, you will begin to worry excessively about others and will become defensive if questioned about past or present events. You may adopt compulsive habits and proceed to impulsively make decisions or take risks. You will also feel lonely more frequently, whether you are completely isolated or surrounded by people.
Stage Three: Crisis Building
In the next stage, you will develop tunnel vision, feeling consumed by a single thought or fear (such as spiraling back into addictive tendencies). These negative thought patterns can develop into a minor depression, which will affect your ability to make plans and keep them.
Stage Four: Immobilization
The following stage is characterized by pessimism and lack of action. You will start envisioning more hopeful scenarios but will not take the steps to make your dreams a reality. You will think your problems are not fixable and wish for a happier life.
Stage Five: Confusion and Overreaction
The fifth stage of relapse may make you irritable and hostile, even over mild inconveniences. You will also experience periods of confusion.
Stage Six: Depression
Minor depression will intensify during the sixth stage of relapse. You may develop irregular eating and sleeping patterns, become more lethargic, and abandon daily responsibilities.
Stage Seven: Behavioral Loss of Control
Severe depression progresses into apathy about recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. You may begin to skip AA and treatment meetings and stop caring about recovery or anything else happening in your life. You will openly reject any outside help, become dissatisfied with the direction your life is taking, and feel powerless or helpless.
Stage Eight: Recognition of Loss of Control
Your focus on negative emotions translates into self-pity. To make yourself feel better, you begin to convince yourself that a moment of social drinking or using will not hold serious consequences. You start purposely lying to yourself and others, and you lose any remaining self-esteem.
Stage Nine: Option Reduction
Right before you relapse, you will feel unreasonably resentful and stop attending treatment altogether. You may feel lonely, angry, unfulfilled, and stressed. Your behavior will spiral out of control.
Stage Ten: The Relapse Episode
Any tensions come to a boiling point during the final stage of relapse, which starts with using the substance that provoked your addiction in the first place. After initial use, you will feel ashamed and guilty, and convince yourself that you cannot be helped and that your future is hopeless. You lose all control, further damaging your mind and body in the process. The relapse may also impair your interpersonal relationships.
You may have already experienced these emotions and exhibited these behaviors, but the tenth stage of relapse does not have to be the end of your story. It is one chapter with a resolvable conflict. Rather than dwell on past missteps, concentrate on your future and the ways you can minimize your chances of relapsing again. Look to family, friends, and any connections you made during treatment for support.
Relapse is not synonymous with failure. Though there is no cure for addiction, the disease is highly treatable. Don’t let a relapse prevent you from living your best life.