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What to Do If You’re on the Verge of a Drug Relapse

When you’re struggling with substance abuse, maintaining sobriety can be an everyday challenge. Unfortunately, for some, relapse is part of recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 40-60% of addicts relapse at least once.

Addiction is a chronic disease, meaning that relapse is a possibility at any time, no matter how long a user has abstained from drug or alcohol use. In fact, the longer you have refrained and been in recovery, the more dangerous a relapse can be. If you have been sober for any length of time you will lose tolerance for your drug of choice. So if you relapse and use the same amount you were accustomed to consuming during the height of the addiction, your body is unprepared, making overdose and death more likely.

Even if you make it safely through an incident of relapse, it can be damaging to your rehabilitation. But just because you relapse does not mean that you have somehow failed. It’s more helpful to look at the relapse as a learning experience, a way to move forward, and a lesson in what not to do in the future. Still, once relapse occurs, it can be a struggle to get back on the road to recovery. Using just one time can set a person back to the beginning and bring forth all the old feelings, both physically and psychologically. That’s why returning to treatment quickly is crucial to long-term recovery and health.

If you’re struggling with your path to recovery and worried you may be on the verge of using again, here’s everything you need to know to prevent — or, if need be, recover from — a relapse.


The Stages of Relapse

Although relapse is usually a spontaneous and impulsive decision, there are specific warning signs to look for. Relapse is considered more of a process than a singular event, and it usually occurs in three stages:

Emotional Relapse

In this first stage, you may begin to experience negative emotional responses to everyday occurrences, such as anger, anxiety, and moodiness. Look out for a change in sleeping habits, erratic eating, or pulling away from your support system.

These scenarios can occur before you are even aware they are happening. So if you recognize a change in your behaviors, it’s recommended you reach out for help immediately at this stage.

Mental Relapse

Considered the second stage of the process, this is often when someone in recovery begins the internal struggle of wanting to remain sober and on the road to recovery while simultaneously wishing to return to the romanticized fantasy of using. If you’re experiencing this push-and-pull, start proactively seeking help. Because once a former addict has made the decision to use again, it's often just a matter of time before they follow through.

Physical Relapse

Once mental relapse has taken hold, it is usually not long before a potential relapse progresses to the physical stage. This is when an addict once again partakes in drug or alcohol use, breaking their sobriety.

Unfortunately, even a minor slip can be a huge blow to a recovering addict. Intense cravings can arise just from one use, and consistent abuse is just another use away. Again, at this stage, it’s vital to get back into treatment as quickly as possible.


Understanding the Underlying Causes of Relapse

Knowing what to watch for and what might trigger you to relapse is essential to prevention. Here are the most standard relapse triggers you should consider having a plan in place for:


Identify your stressors. Recognizing what brings stress to your life and making healthy changes in your relationships, lifestyle, work habits, and priorities can reduce the likelihood of a stress-induced relapse.

People, Places, and Things

This specifically refers to associations related to your substance abuse. For example, associating with people that participated in your addictive behaviors, regardless of whether they are still using or not, can be triggering. 

Places that you hung out at or bought drugs from can also generate temptation to participate in your addiction again, no matter how long it has been since you last used.

“Things” refer to objects, actions, or sensations that serve as reminders of your addiction, such as hearing a cork from a bottle, getting a whiff of cigarette smoke, or using a lighter. Anything that reminds you of your addictive behaviors can be a lure to fall back into your old ways. 

All of this is normal. Especially early in recovery, these associations can all feel familiar and safe. However, it’s more productive to focus on the new life you are building and embrace the changes you are making to move forward. You are creating a newer, healthier version of yourself. You may think that you miss your old life, but remember how much pain and hardship it brought.

Times of Celebration

Birthdays, weddings, weekend BBQs, and holidays are highly triggering for some individuals. You may think you can handle one drink or one smoke among loved ones, but unfortunately, people with addiction issues do not have the capacity to know when to stop, potentially turning that “one drink” into a full-on binge and relapse.

Avoid going into these situations alone. You might be surprised at how quickly good intentions can disappear once you are in a celebratory environment. Bringing a sober friend or family member that you trust and respect can be extremely helpful. 

Negative Emotions

For some people, using drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors to mask feelings and emotions can provide temporary relief and avoidance. But in the long term, such behaviors are ineffective and self-destructive.

Learning how to cope with your uncomfortable feelings and emotions can be an ongoing process, but experiencing negativity doesn't have to be a sign of an impending relapse. The key is in how you deal with your emotions. Working with a therapist or a sponsor can be essential to staying sober while learning how to deal with your feelings in a healthy and productive way.


Facing Challenges

Every stage of recovery has its own set of challenges. Developing effective ways of handling your feelings or putting a plan into place for when you face a difficult situation is essential to avoiding a relapse.

Part of this is ensuring a positive support system is in place with people you trust and respect. A support system will help you avoid relapse by helping you cope with stress and triggers. They can also provide a positive and safe space to empower you and promote a greater sense of well-being as you continue on your path to recovery.


Countrywide Testing

If you or a loved one is in recovery and possibly on the verge of a relapse, let Countrywide Testing help. 

We are an online retailer of FDA-approved drug and alcohol testing devices, and our SAMHSA-accredited lab services will give you quick and reliable results when you need them the most. Our tools and testing kits can help you determine if a loved one or patient has relapsed and is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, so you know when it's time to get them extra support.

Contact us via our website, email, or call (619) 292-8734 to learn more about our products and services.



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