The 3 Stages of Addiction Relapse to Look Out For

When your loved one makes it successfully through a rehabilitation program, the last thing you want to think about is the possibility of a relapse. And while it’s hopefully something you will never encounter on your loved one’s journey to lifelong sobriety, it’s beneficial for you to educate yourself on the signs to look for.

What You Need to Know About Relapse

In general, relapse is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen suddenly like you’d expect. Relapse is part of the overall process and just like with any disease, these symptoms come in stages over time until eventually the person gives in. This can sometimes make it challenging to detect when a relapse is happening.

Of course, not everyone will experience a relapse during their recovery journey. But according to, 40 to 60 percent of people will go through a relapse at least once on their path to lifelong sobriety. This is why a relapse shouldn’t be a sign to give up. Instead, it’s a bump in the road and a learning experience that will hopefully make them stronger in the future.

3 Stages of the Relapse Process

It’s important to understand that while relapse is often an impulsive decision by a person struggling with addiction, there are signs and triggers that lead up to the event. When broken down, relapse typically occurs in three stages. These stages include:

Emotional Relapse

During this phase, a person usually starts to wrestle with feelings and emotions they had when they were abusing drugs or alcohol. Things you may start to notice include withdrawal from support and family gatherings, irritability, isolation and denial. These behaviors can start to push them toward a dangerous path.

Mental Relapse

During this phase, it’s common for someone in recovery to start to question their sobriety. They might struggle with the idea of using and not using. Logically, they know they shouldn’t and they want to stay on the right path, but reminiscing, and even glamorizing, the people and places associated with their old life becomes difficult to ignore. This internal conflict can push them towards using again.

Physical Relapse

During this phase, a person makes the physical decision to drink or get high again. While it could be a one-time thing, it could also lead to continued use over time. The hope is that they will relapse once, realize what they’ve done and become even more focused on recovery.

How You Can Help

Even though sometimes relapse is entirely unavoidable, there are some things you can do to help your loved one prevent the physical stage of relapse. Once you start noticing signs and symptoms of emotional and mental relapse, there are some steps you can encourage them to take to prevent a full-blown issue.
Some techniques to try:

  • Stay in close communication – Check in often and encourage your loved one to reach out to their sponsor
  • Prevent impulsivity – Encourage your loved one to take time to think things through before making any decisions
  • Remind them of the consequences – Without nagging, remind them of things they will be sacrificing by relapsing
  • Provide distractions – Try not to talk about it all the time and help them engage in activities that provide healthy distractions.

Work Towards Lifetime Sobriety at Spirit Mountain Recovery

Spirit Mountain Recovery is unlike any traditional rehabilitation center. Our unique approach is backed by evidence-based experiential treatment paired with healthy, outdoor activity in the Wasatch Mountains of Salt Lake City.

This approach allows men to reorient their life goals, find happiness outside of addiction and get the most out of their recovery journey. If you have questions about your loved one’s sobriety, contact us today and we will talk you through it.

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