According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), 40-60% of people who suffer from substance use disorder(SUD) will experience a relapse. The NIDA also states that due to the chronic nature of addiction, relapsing while in recovery is a part of the process. Relapses can likely occur if those in recovery do not actively manage their sobriety based on the tools learned while in treatment.

Although experiencing a relapse may be expected for some, it can also be hazardous. Because relapses may happen after a period of sobriety, the body is no longer used to the amount of alcohol or drugs that may have been consumed while in active addiction. 

An overdose is likely to occur if someone who relapses consumes as much alcohol or drugs as before treatment when their body can no longer process those substances. If an overdose occurs and medical treatment is not easily accessible, the overdose could result in death.

What Is Considered a Relapse?

In straightforward terms, relapse in recovery means that a once sober person has returned to using or consuming drugs or alcohol

What Can Cause a Relapse? 

In their “National Practice Guideline Supplement,” the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) states that, “Relapse can be triggered by exposure to rewarding substances and behaviors, by exposure to environmental cues to use, and by exposure to emotional stressors that trigger heightened activity in brain stress circuits.” This means it is crucial for those in recovery to know their triggers and have healthy coping skills to help them avoid returning to substance use. 

In addition, addiction is a disease that affects how the brain works. SUD disrupts the brain’s natural function. This disruption will cause a person in active addiction to have an uncontrollable urge to continue abusing substances until they receive medical help

With treatment, standard brain functionality can be restored. However, depending on the length and severity of the addiction, it could take a long time before the brain is properly functioning again. During this healing process, many people may be prone to experience a relapse. 

Another leading cause of relapse is exposure to triggers. Relapse triggers can vary from person to person. Triggers are those people, places, or situations that remind people of their past alcohol and drug use and may entice them to use again. 

The Three Stages of Relapse

Although it may seem like a relapse can occur out of nowhere, research shows that relapse is not immediate after all. Relapse can happen slowly and in stages. These stages include:

#1. Emotional Relapse 

Denial is a leading factor in an emotional relapse. During this early stage, individuals are not considering going back to the drugs or alcohol that led to their addiction. However, the person in this stage is not working through their emotions and behaviors; they ignore them. 

Without turning to healthy coping mechanisms, these individuals will most likely suffer a future physical relapse. Emotional relapse warning signs include: 

  • Self-care neglect
  • Increased isolation
  • Withdrawal from peer and community support groups
  • Not communicating emotions

#2. Mental Relapse

Amid a mental relapse, the individual will be waging an internal battle: to use or not to use. As their mental battle continues, it will become harder and harder to resist using drugs or alcohol again. 

At some point, this individual may feel they can no longer cope with their mental struggles, resulting in a physical relapse. Warning signs that a mental relapse is occurring include:

  • Not being truthful
  • Seeking out triggers that will cause a relapse
  • Alcohol and drug cravings
  • Minimizing consequences of substance abuse

#3. Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is the third and last stage of relapse. As the name suggests, a physical relapse means an individual starts to use drugs or alcohol again. Many relapses occur when individuals believe they can use their substance of choice without getting caught. Even one drink or consumption of a drug could lead to uncontrolled use.

After a Relapse, What Should I Do Next?

If you or a loved one has experienced a relapse, seek immediate help. If the relapse is a singular event, you may not need treatment immediately, but you will have to make lifestyle and behavioral changes to manage your sobriety better. Some tips include:  

  • Re-examine your goals or set new ones
  • Make self-care part of your routine
  • Be honest with yourself about your triggers
  • Seek help

However, if you have experienced multiple relapses or a relapse lasting an extended period of time, it may be best to attend a rehabilitation program. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we offer medically supervised detox programs in a safe environment. We also offer aftercare programs to help reduce your chances of a relapse. 

Maintaining sobriety is a lifelong commitment, and you may experience one or multiple setbacks. Setbacks from any chronic illness, including addiction, are likely, and experiencing one does not mean that you have failed. Being aware of your substance use triggers and learning healthy coping skills is vital in recovery. Relapse does not just happen out of nowhere; it tends to occur slowly in emotional, mental, and physical relapse stages. If you or a loved one has experienced a relapse, it is essential to remember that it is a part of the recovery process and to not give up on your sobriety. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we offer medical detox programs, rehabilitation services, and aftercare plans to help you successfully manage your sobriety. Our drug and alcohol treatment center located in Hawaii has trained professionals willing to help you with your needs 24/7. Call us today at (866) 390-5070 to learn more.