Relapse rates are notoriously hard to track but the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that between 40 and 60 percent of people with substance use disorders relapse within a year after completing treatment. Many people assume relapse is a spontaneous event–a bad day meets an opportunity to drink or use again and you’re off to the races. However, it’s actually more common for a relapse to happen at the end of a process that could take weeks or months. This may be especially true for men. One study of people recovering from cocaine use found that only 17 percent of men, compared to 56 percent of women, relapsed immediately after the thought of using occurred to them. That means a large majority of men in this particular study took some time to mull it over and likely come up with some rationalizations before relapsing. If you are familiar with how this process works, you might be able to spot the early signs of relapse and turn things around before it’s too late.
The road toward relapse typically begins with emotional relapse. At the emotional stage, you probably don’t intend to start drinking or using drugs again. You probably remember how much pain it caused you and your family and you genuinely want to stay sober. However, things may be going a little roughly for you. Emotional relapse is typically characterized by bottling up emotions, skipping meetings, and getting involved with other people’s business and ignoring your own problems. The defining characteristic of the emotional relapse stage is that you’re neglecting self-care. You may not be eating healthy or sleeping enough. Exercise, taking time to relax, and spending time with supportive people are also important elements of self-care.
At this point, it’s not too hard to turn things around. If you’ve been skipping meetings or therapy session, start going back and sharing. Talk to someone you trust about what’s been bothering you. Get plenty of sleep and pay attention to what you’re eating.
If you keep going down the same path without fixing anything, you may reach the stage of mental relapse. At the mental relapse stage, you may, on balance, still want to stay sober, at least at first. However, your mental resistance to relapse has started to erode. The mental relapse stage is typically characterized by cravings for drugs and alcohol; thinking about people, places, and things associated with past use; minimizing consequences of using again or glamorizing past use; bargaining; lying; thinking of schemes to use again in moderation; looking for opportunities to relapse; and, finally, planning to relapse.
At a certain point in mental relapse, it’s hard to turn things around because you’ve essentially made up your mind to relapse and now it’s just a matter of finding an opportunity. It’s crucial to reach out to someone you trust while you still have some desire to stay sober. Let them know what’s going on and that you need support.
Relapse is disappointing, frustrating, and even dangerous, but it is not a permanent failure. Many people try several times before succeeding in recovery. Every time you try, you learn new things and build new resources. Although a relapse is certainly a setback, it doesn’t mean starting over. At Tree House Recovery of Portland, Oregon, we help men build a strong recovery through a holistic program that addresses body, mind, and spirit. Call us today at (503) 850-2474 to learn how we can help you.