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What Is Physical Relapse?

What Is Physical Relapse?
Addiction Recovery Strategies

Physical Relapse Can Happen While In Addiction Recovery

Rehabilitation programs like the ones offered at Vanity Wellness Center teach you how to cope with cravings, triggers, and intrusive thoughts in a healthy way. However, daily stressors or distressing events can make it harder to maintain sobriety. In those moments, you can lean on your resources and support system to give you strength and motivation for continued abstinence.

What Is Physical Relapse?

Physical relapse generally follows mental relapse and emotional relapse. However, some individuals experience strong triggers, cravings, or intrusive thoughts, which may cause a backslide into maladaptive behaviors, like substance misuse. This could potentially happen without first undergoing a prolonged mental or emotional relapse. According to The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (YJBM), “Once an individual has had one drink or one drug use, it may quickly lead to a relapse of uncontrolled using,” and “more importantly, it usually will lead to a mental relapse of obsessive or uncontrolled thinking about using, which eventually can lead to physical relapse.” The side effects of physical relapse include:

  • Increased cravings and intrusive thoughts
  • Feelings of anger, regret, or self-loathing
  • Physical reactions to the substance and withdrawal symptoms
  • Increased risk of overdose

It is important to recognize possible warning signs of an impending physical relapse.

Warning Signs of Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is different from emotional or mental relapse because it affects how your mind and body react to stress. Even one instance of substance misuse can be dangerous and potentially deadly.

One way you can decrease the risk of physical relapse is by keeping an eye out for possible warning signs, including:

  • Difficulty coping with chronic or acute stress
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Mental or emotional relapse
  • Feeling like a relapse is inevitable
  • Difficulty focusing at work or school because of intrusive thoughts about relapsing
  • Taking action to obtain substances

Physical relapse generally comes after an emotional or mental relapse that has left you vulnerable to the temptation of misusing substances. For most people, relapse is a part of the recovery process, and it does not mean you have failed. Instead, it is an opportunity to use the tools you have learned.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “The chronic nature of addiction means that for some people relapse, or a return to drug use after an attempt to stop, can be part of the process, but newer treatments are designed to help with relapse prevention.” Research published by NIDA indicates that up to 60% of all individuals in recovery end up relapsing. Despite this, many go on to full recovery. You do not have to let a physical relapse stop you from achieving long-term sobriety. However, avoiding it will lower the risk of injury, illness, or overdose.

How to Avoid Physical Relapse

Some individuals do not consider a single incident of substance misuse to be a true relapse. No matter what you believe about relapsing, it is essential to avoid situations where you might feel tempted to backslide. Some ways you can avoid physical relapse include:

  • Go to a friend’s house or contact someone from your support system if you feel tempted to purchase and misuse a substance
  • Follow your emergency plan to keep yourself in a safe space
  • Avoid being alone when you feel on edge or vulnerable
  • Contact a crisis hotline if you have no one else to reach out to
  • Use coping skills like breathwork to lower your anxiety and force your body to relax

Rehabilitation prepares you for the moment when you face the choice of either physically relapsing or maintaining your abstinence.

Your Support System and Safety Plan

Relapse prevention strategies are an excellent tool for avoiding physical relapse. However, you may find yourself experiencing setbacks that leave you feeling uncertain about your ability to maintain abstinence. You need to rely on your support system and safety plan to avoid temptation in those moments. Most safety plans have many options to fit various scenarios. Below are some common safety plan strategies:

#1. Contact a Member of Your Support System

Text, call, or visit a member of your support system who you trust to help you get through the difficult moment. Relying on your friends and family to keep you safe can reduce intrusive thoughts and cravings.

#2. Remove Your Options

It’s harder to relapse if you do not have the necessary resources to locate and obtain substances. For example, if you feel yourself slipping into a dark place, give your car keys to someone you trust. Removing your ability to travel in times like these can make it easier to resist temptation.

#3. Find a New Motivation

Sometimes emotional, mental, and physical relapse happens because you lose the motivation to maintain sobriety. Instead of giving in to temptation in those moments, you can use that time to find more substantial motivations, like family, friends, or professional goals to keep you moving forward.

Vanity Wellness Helps With Physical Relapse

Physical relapse usually takes place after you experience emotional and mental relapse. To stop yourself from acting on maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, you can use the tools you have learned in treatment and therapy. No one else can make that choice for you. However, it takes determination and a desire to remain sober despite any stressors or trauma you may experience. You can decide to use your safety plan in those moments and reach out to the people who love you and want to see you continue in your recovery. Vanity Wellness Center ensures all our clients have the resources and coping skills they need to achieve and maintain sobriety. To learn more about how we can help you avoid physical relapse, call our office today at (866) 587-1737 and speak with a dedicated intake specialist. You are not alone, and we can help. 

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