Mental, emotional and physical components work together to create addiction, and are manipulated through treatment to bring someone out of addiction. When the balance is disrupted in someone who has been through addiction, the consequences can be very serious. Many recovering addicts who have been sober for a long time relapse in a ‘binge’ mode, and take in far more of their drug of choice than they would have before getting clean. Their bodies, which are no longer accustomed to the drug, tend to over-react and already damaged systems go into high gear. Many of the celebrity deaths due to drug overdose happen after a person has been abstinent for a time and has relapsed. The most dangerous time for an addict is when they are by themselves after treatment.
When there are forces in a recovering addict’s life that are beyond their control, it can result in a sense of emotional or mental stress. This may trigger the same behavior that they had difficulty with in the past, and if the treatment has not given the addict the right skills, the addictive behavior can resurface not long after treatment has been completed. When relapse occurs, it isn’t a one step process. The addict who is suffering under pressure in life may feel depressed, alone and ashamed. These negative and serious feelings are warning signs that there may be a crash coming, and generally appear far ahead of the use of the drug. This type of experience is called an emotional relapse. One thing that loved ones and family members of an addict can do to help in this situation is provide the addict with enough secure, low pressure affection which will make them feel like they are not alone. If possible, the addict should be guided back to therapy or treatment before the relapse progresses.
For the addict who is struggling, and has encountered the emotional relapse, the next step is a mental relapse. In this stage of relapse, the addict considers using or not using, and may experience a feeling of disorienting thought. Visiting people with whom the addict used to abuse drugs or drink, going to places where drinking or using was common, or reminiscing about the good old days are common behaviors that indicate a mental relapse is happening. The addict who is thinking about using needs to connect with treatment, and access resources that will help bolster his ability to think past the old crutches.
When most people think about relapse after addiction treatment, they think of the final stage, the physical relapse. This is the point at which the addict actually, physically uses the drug again, or takes a drink. While the addict remembers the amount they used before going through therapy, their body no longer has the capability to tolerate that high level of drug. By the time a physical relapse happens, it is too late for the addict.
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