In recovery, it is fairly common for an individual to relapse. A relapse in addiction is when an individual goes back to full usage of the drug or alcohol that they were attempting to abstain from. Luckily, relapse can be avoided or at least caught in its early stages if there is a proper relapse prevention plan in place.
Relapse can be a common part of recovery. Some studies indicate that about half of the individuals who attempt sobriety returned to heavy use. In addition, some studies have shown that 70% to 90% of individuals in recovery will experience some sort of mild or moderate drug relapse or alcohol relapse.1 It may take as much as five or six relapses in addiction to maintain change.2
A relapse or even multiple relapses can be a part of the recovery process from a drug or alcohol dependence. As an individual in recovery, experiencing a slip, lapse, or even full relapse is not a sign of failure. It can be just one step on the road to recovery.
Relapse in addiction can be a crucial aspect of recovery because the individual learns to recognize their triggers. That person can practice using effective coping mechanisms to combat these triggers and reasons why they may partake in usage once more.
When discussing relapse, it’s important to understand the terms associated with relapse as well as their severity. Generally, three terms will be associated with the relapse process: slip, relapse, and lapse.
Unfortunately, some dangers coincide with relapse. Regardless of if the person has been sober for weeks, days, or years, an uncontained relapse can harm the treatment plan.
Withdrawal is the symptoms of alcohol or drug dependency experienced as the substance leaves the body. Typically, these symptoms are a rather unpleasant experience. The use of drugs or alcohol can rewire the brain, which is why recovery takes a long time. During this period, the brain has to completely rewire itself for the cravings to lessen. The cravings will likely get worse before they get better, and it can be difficult to manage these symptoms on one’s own.
An individual’s mental health is also an area that can be highly impacted by recovery and relapse in addiction. Any underlying symptoms of anxiety or depression will become present during times of recovery and may even influence relapse. Luckily, like the withdrawal symptoms, these symptoms will lessen over time as the individual learns to use coping mechanisms.
In addition to withdrawal symptoms and mental health, there is an increased overdose risk during times of relapse. The person who used to abuse the substance regularly built up a tolerance that they no longer have. When they use a substance at the same level that they had in the past, they may find that they no longer have that tolerance and an overdose is much more likely to occur.
Relapse happens gradually. That being said, there are some distinct stages as well as signs that loved ones can learn to look for.
Even in late-stage recovery, relapse is possible. Regardless of if you are a family member or an individual recovering from an addiction, you should watch and understand the signs of relapse. Furthermore, the exact cause of relapse will depend on the individual, so it is important to understand triggers and causes of relapse.
Oftentimes, the goals of treatment include helping the individual recognize early warning signs of relapse so they can find the help that they need. Additionally, individuals should learn to develop coping skills so that they can help combat pay potential causes of relapse. However, it’s important to understand the early warning signs of relapse so that coping mechanisms can be utilized effectively.6
Relapse is a process and not a single event. Relapse prevention plans are typically put in place to help an individual in the recovery process. The relapse prevention plan will incorporate each of the stages of relapse and include ways that the individual can use coping mechanisms instead of resorting to substance use. This, in turn, can help the individual maintain their sobriety and continue on the path to recovery.6
There are generally two relapse prevention models discussed in the recent literature.
The Gorski-Cenaps Relapse Prevention Model focuses on teaching individuals about the warning signs of relapse in hope that they can learn to recognize those signs in themselves. This model has a 9-step process that includes: stabilization, assessment, relapse education, identifying warning signs, managing warning signs, recovery planning, inventory training, family involvement, and follow-up.7
Marlatt’s Model of Relapse Prevention is a relapse prevention plan that teaches individuals how to maintain changes in their behavior so that they can better cope with relapse. It discusses events that happen over time and breaks down the relapse process and treats relapse as an event and not a failure in treatment.8
When creating a relapse prevention plan, you should incorporate all the stages of relapse as well as identifying potential triggers that could incite a relapse. This planning is best done with someone who struggles with substance use as well as family members and close friends who will be supporting the individual as they recover.
If you experience a relapse in addiction during recovery, seek medical support immediately. This support can be from a treatment center that you attended, but you may go to a medical center if it is an emergency. Additionally, make sure that you have supportive people in your life that can help you find the resources that you need to continue on your recovery plan. Finally, ensure you have a safe place to stay in if you feel as though you need to use substances again.