There are three stages of addiction relapse – emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Let’s explore some of the common reasons why individuals relapse and the strategies for preventing and overcoming addiction relapse.

What is a Relapse?

A relapse is when an individual who has been in addiction recovery for some time starts to engage in their addiction again.

A relapse can happen multiple times throughout the recovery process, and can range from mild to severe.

What Causes a Relapse?

There are many different things that can trigger a relapse, and these triggers will vary from person to person.

Stress: When a person has previously coped with stress by using substances, stress can trigger cravings for a substance.

Boredom: When individuals have too much free time and lack stimulation, they may be more likely to engage in substance use as a means of filling the void.

Loneliness: Substance use can provide temporary relief from negative emotions that come with loneliness, but ultimately, it only exacerbates the underlying issue of loneliness.

Social pressure: Social pressure may arise in social situations where substance use is the norm, such as parties or gatherings where drugs or alcohol are readily available. In these situations, individuals may feel pressure to fit in and not stand out as the only sober person.

Decline in mental health: Individuals may look to substances to cope with difficult emotions such as anxiety and depression. It’s essential to put extra care into maintaining mental health during the recovery process.

Overconfidence: Individuals may convince themselves that they can handle just a little bit of drugs or alcohol, and they forget the power of their addiction.

Not addressing underlying issues: Neglecting underlying issues that feed the addiction can lead to a relapse, since the core root of the addiction has not been solved.

Is Relapse a Part of Recovery?

Relapse is a very common part of the recovery process, and you shouldn’t give up on your recovery just because you experience one or multiple relapses. It often takes several tries before sobriety sticks.

Remember, a relapse is not a failure. If you have relapsed, see it as an opportunity for growth and a learning experience, and identify what led to the relapse so that you can be more prepared moving forward.

How a Relapse Happens

Just as there are stages of addiction and recovery, a relapse also occurs gradually over the course of 3 stages. Understanding the stages of relapse can help individuals identify warning signs and prevent a full-blown relapse.

Emotional Relapse

An emotional relapse is a state of mind that can eventually lead to a full-blown relapse if it is not properly addressed. This may be an increase in stress levels, anxiety, or depression, which can trigger the urge to return to the addictive behavior.

Emotional relapses often occur because there are underlying issues that go unaddressed, such as mental health issues, unresolved trauma, or relationship problems.

Warning signs of an emotional relapse include:

  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Not attending recovery meetings
  • Mood swings
  • Not asking for help
  • Poor self-care

When an emotional relapse occurs, it’s important to be extra diligent about self-care, and try to manage your stress levels in a healthy way. Exercise and therapy are also great ways to help deal with these difficult emotions as they arise.

Mental Relapse

A mental relapse is when a person starts actively thinking about using a substance again. Although there has not yet been any physical engagement with the substance, the person is considering it.

At this point, the individual may start to rationalize using the substance, and convince themselves that they can handle it just this once.

It’s important to catch these thoughts as they arise to prevent a physical relapse.

Warning signs of a mental relapse include:

  • Craving for the substance
  • Minimizing consequences of past use
  • Fantasizing about drinking or using
  • Hanging out with old friends who drink or use

Physical Relapse

A physical relapse is when a person actually returns to substance use after a period of sobriety.

Physical relapse occurs when emotional relapse and mental relapse go unaddressed. This is why it’s critical to understand early on that the risk of relapse is high when emotions or stray thoughts start leading a person down a route they’ve already selected and worked hard to avoid.

What to Do After a Relapse

As soon as you relapse, you may feel immediate regret or shame, and feel like you’ve lost the progress that you’ve made. If you have relapsed, don’t panic – relapse is very common in the recovery process. Here’s what to do immediately following a relapse. 

Reflect on why the relapse happened. There are always reasons for a relapse, even if we don’t see them at the time. Take time to understand the circumstances that led you to relapse, so that you can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. 

Seek support. Reach out to friends, family, a therapist, or an addiction treatment specialist for help and encouragement. Don’t let shame stop you from getting the help that you need. 

Recommit to recovery. Remember why you wanted to get sober in the first place, and recommit to your recovery plan. A relapse doesn’t mean you are starting over. 

Go to treatment. If you feel lost when it comes to how to get your recovery back on track, the best thing you can do is to attend a treatment program. 

How to Prevent a Relapse

Although relapses are normal when recovering from an addiction, they are preventable. Here are some long-term strategies to take in order to help prevent a relapse.


Have a support system. This may consist of a support group, a sponsor, friends, family members, a therapist, etc.

Have someone holding you accountable. Having someone check in on you to ensure that you are on track for meeting your goals can be very helpful. This way, you are not only answering to yourself, but to another trusted individual.

Limit triggers. Wherever possible, limit your exposure to triggers. Avoid people or places that you associate with addictive behavior.

Practice healthy coping mechanisms. Having healthy coping mechanisms in your toolbelt is essential for preventing relapse. Rather than turning to a substance every time you experience a difficult situation, you will have other ways of dealing with it.

Practice self-care. Allow yourself time to rest and do things that you enjoy. When you get too busy or stressed, this can lead to a relapse. You need to learn how to relax and have fun without the use of substances.

Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

If you’re tired of relapsing, it’s time to seek support and treatment to help you gain control of your life.

Paramount Recovery Center offers detox & stabilization for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as a sober living program that lasts up to 90 days.

Our staff at Paramount are ready to assist you with any questions you may have regarding addiction and treatment. Contact our addiction specialists to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one on the road to recovery.

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