Relapse is associated with many feelings, attitudes, and behaviors. There are 10 stages involved with relapse that has been identified by experts.
Stage1: Unhealthy Emotions
When you stop using drugs and develop a recovery plan to stay clean, you initially do fine. However, at some point, you may come upon a problem and not be able to adequately cope emotionally. These unhealthy emotions are often called “stinking thinking” because you feel down and out but do not understand why.
Instead of recognizing that you are stressed and emotionally unable to cope with these feelings, you use denial to convince yourself everything will be alright. However, this mechanism is similar to what you use when you are dealing with addiction and confronted with uncomfortable feelings. Denial of emotional stress often leaves the recovering addict feeling overwhelmed. If you use recovery tools, you will know that sharing these feelings help you get over these emotions.
The worst thing a recovering addict can do in the denial stage is isolated him- or herself from support persons. You may overreact and focus on internal issues, causing you to relapse quicker. Don’t distance yourself from your support network during the denial stage. Learn how to recognize it and move forward. During recovery, you may feel like you are on a roller coaster of your emotions. This is the stage of relapse where you often feel anxious and have much sleeplessness and sadness. These ups and downs are part of the denial stage of relapse.
Stage 3: Compulsive Behaviors
In the downward progression of drug use, a recovering addict first tries to cope with emotional stresses by engaging in certain compulsive behaviors rather than using appropriate recovery tools. During this stage of relapse, you will find your thinking going back to the old, insane ways associated with drug and/or alcohol use. You know you don’t want to get back on drugs again, but you are also not using the techniques to cope that you learned in rehab.
Emotional relapse is associated with compulsive behaviors. These are things we do to attempt to repair ourselves, slowly abandoning the recovery program and returning to drug use. During this stage of the relapse process, you make irrational choices, use poor judgment, and become argumentative and defensive. Signs of emotional relapse include sleeping more, ignoring personal hygiene, and having distorted thinking.
Stage 4: Triggers
Triggers are things, places, and situations that remind you or prompt you to use drugs or drink alcohol. In a solid recovery program, you do not use the right techniques to avoid and ignore triggers. During this stage, you need to avoid places that remind you of your using days. Triggers snap you and set you off. During this stage, you should attend a meeting, contact a sponsor, or turn to a higher power to remove the obsession for using drugs or drinking.
Stage 5: Interior Chaos
When a person is triggered to use drugs, their stress level goes up and erratic emotions control thinking. This leads to interior chaos, which is part of mental relapse. During this stage, thinking patterns are more distorted and insane, with the obsession to use drugs becoming stronger. The reality of your condition is obscured by fantasies of the good old days of drug use.
During stage 5, you need to remind yourself of why you wanted to get clean in the first place. You need to go back and remember how the disease rendered both your body and mind abnormal. Also, you need to stay focused on the program in hopes of maintaining recovery. It is crucial that you remember that it is not external issues that lead to drug use, but it’s your inability to cope with emotions and thoughts that drive you toward drugs.
Stage 6: Exterior Turmoil
If you remain in a state of mental relapse, you may at some point realize that your frame of mind is not right. You know that you are slipping out of recovery and having feelings of shame, fear, or even pride. Eventually, your addictive thinking ways cause problems with your outside world. This is when you have fights with family members, get into arguments with co-workers, and feel bitter.
Stage 7: Loss of Control
If you try handling your problems without help, they may overwhelm you until you feel fed up. You may feel that you are getting out of control again. Life may become troublesome, and you are at crises. Once you recognize that you are out of control, you may have a chance at staying clean. This is a crucial point during relapse to identify the problems and refrain from drug use.
Stage 8: Addictive Thinking
At this stage of your relapse, you use all your addict defense mechanisms. The disease convinces you that recovery is not working, and that you should just do what you want. You may feel miserable and fail to understand what is really going on. Deluded feelings convince you that recovery is too hard and not enjoyable. The disease makes you avoid support persons, skip meetings, and think about using more and more. To avoid responsibilities, you think about leaving your spouse, quitting your job, and using drugs.
Stage 9: High-Risk Situations
By this stage, your mental relapse is full-blown. Your emotions are in turmoil and your thinking is distorted. You believe it is alright to go back to visiting places where drugs are, and you get to be around the drug scene. You justify your behavior and put yourself in real high-risk situations.
Stage 10: Relapse
When you actually relapse, you revert back to your old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. You find yourself abandoning your recovery skills and using drugs and/or alcohol again. The way you see it, you can use or commit suicide. Relapse is not a failure, however. Rather, this is just a minor setback. At this point, you need to go back into inpatient treatment, where you can work through your problems and get clean again.