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Addiction Relapse

Relapse is considered part of recovery. If an addiction relapse happens, it’s not an indication that you’ve failed. However, it is a sign that something in your life or addiction treatment plan needs to change to support your sobriety and reduce the risk of future relapse.

Understanding Addiction Relapse

When you recognize substance abuse as a disease, you can see how addiction relapse is possible. With a chronic physical illness, such as a heart condition, you can take measures to treat it. But there is always a chance that the symptoms will return. This doesn’t signal a failure on the part of the patient; we generally understand this as a reality of the disease.
Addiction relapse is quite similar. Treatment helps. So do other means of managing the chronic condition, such as lifestyle changes, education and support. But there is always a chance that symptoms of substance abuse and addiction will recur.

Addiction Relapse Starts Earlier Than You Think

Relapse is usually defined as a return to substance abuse after a period of sobriety. However, there are several stages of addiction relapse, and the process often begins while you’re still sober. With some self-awareness, you can identify the signs of a potential relapse by understanding what happens in each stage. Using your coping skills and seeking help when any of these symptoms arise can prevent you from using again:

Emotional stage

Guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, mood swings, isolation, breaking your routine, sleeping difficulties, refusing help

Mental stage

cravings for substances, reminiscing about your history or experiences with drugs, minimizing negative effects of past drug use, engaging in risky behavior, bargaining, lying, planning how to use again

Physical stage

Physical relapse includes the active steps taken to acquire substances such as contacting a dealer or driving to a liquor store. The individual has begun actively pursuing and using their preferred substance at this stage.

Dangers of Addiction Relapse

Because relapse is so common, it helps to use it as a learning tool. Understanding the emotional, mental and physical symptoms that accompany relapse shows you where your addiction treatment plan might need adjustment.

Perhaps you need to work on coping skills when you’re experiencing depression or anxiety. Maybe you could use an action plan for dealing with substance abuse cravings.
It’s important to focus on relapse prevention because addiction relapse can be dangerous.

For one, someone whose body has adjusted to life without drugs may have a different sensitivity to substances than they did while they were in active addiction.

During sobriety, the body is no longer adapted to the same level of substance exposure as it was before. Consuming the same dose of a drug that someone was used to taking before rehab increases the risk of overdose. In other words, you lose your tolerance during recovery, and taking even half the dose as you customarily used could be fatal.

Focus on Stopping the Cycle of Relapse at Burning Tree Ranch

Even though addiction relapse can serve as a learning experience, it is a risky road to travel. That’s why it’s important to involve relapse prevention in any comprehensive addiction treatment program.

At Burning Tree Ranch, we use a variety of modalities to initiate your recovery. But the support doesn’t stop there. We aim to help you stop the cycle of relapse by building up your ability to live a fulfilling life after rehab.

Our addiction treatment programs focus on long-term goals as well as short-term ones to provide you with a well-rounded capacity for recovery. We work with the individual as well as family members, health care providers and other support people to establish a continuum of support that lasts long after you leave our rooms.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction relapse, contact us for guidance and treatment options. You don’t have to go through this alone, and you can kick the cycle of relapse for good.

How to prevent relapse

Preventing relapse is possible when individuals have the right tools and support in place. A few strategies for avoiding relapse include:

Burning Tree Ranch has been helping the chronic relapser find lasting sobriety since 1999


LMSW, LCDC | Counselor
Kristina Robertson serves as Counselor at Burning Tree Ranch. Holding both a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Social Work, Kristina’s greatest joy is “watching our clients learn to love themselves again.” An avid equestrian, mother to twenty-one horses, and all-around animal lover, Kristina serves as a bright shining example of long-term recovery in action. Her commitment to whole person health: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual makes her an invaluable member of the Burning Tree Ranch clinical team. As a distinguished Phi Theta Kappa and Alpha Zeta member, Kristina believes deeply in each client’s pursuit of becoming their best selves.

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Beth Legacki, Burning Tree Ranch Alumni