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Anyone who’s come out clean and sober after winning a hard-fought battle for sobriety has plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves. However, they also fear one thing – relapsing. For this reason, many of our former military service members who’ve gone through a challenging recovery journey find themselves looking for the best rehab for veterans after relapsing. 

Answers to Common Questions About Addiction Relapse

Questions About Addiction Relapse

What Is Addiction Relapse?

In addiction treatment, relapse refers to the resumption of substance abuse after a period of abstinence. While a brief “slip” is when an individual may return to using drugs or alcohol but then immediately stop again, an addiction relapse is when they make a full-blown return to drinking alcohol and/or using drugs.  

Moreover, statistics show that 40% to 60% of patients treated with substance abuse disorders experience a relapse. Since it’s relatively common for a person to relapse at some point after getting clean, experts confirm that this is a normal part of the recovery process. 

Does Relapse to Substance Use Indicate a Failure in Treatment?

Addiction is a chronic disease that changes the part of the brain responsible for self-monitoring and delaying reward. These structural and functional brain alterations impair the person’s ability to integrate what their intellect tells them is important with what their cravings are telling them.  


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Unfortunately, this impairment persists well beyond the period when the person first obtained sobriety. For this reason, relapsing to substance abuse doesn’t mean that the treatment has failed. It only indicates the need for resumed, modified, or new treatment.  

What Is the Danger of Relapse?

When a person returns to substance use after an extended period of sobriety, they usually lose their tolerance to drugs or alcohol. Since their body isn’t as dependent on the substance as it once was, it requires less alcohol or drug to feel its effects. In most cases, those who relapse don’t recognize this fact.  

As a result, many of them overdose after taking as much of the substance as they did before they got clean or committed to rehab. An overdose occurs when an individual uses so much of a substance that they experience life-threatening symptoms or even death. For this reason, a person who relapses has to seek help from a clinical treatment professional right away.  

What Are the Risk Factors for Relapse?

Individuals who relapse usually face risk factors in the days, weeks, or months leading up to the act of relapsing. These risk factors often come in the form of feelings or experiences that make it difficult for them to cope with their addictions without their alcohol or drug of choice.  

The greater the number of risk factors they face, the higher their risk for relapse. The most common risk factors for relapse include the following: 

  • Stress Due to Interpersonal Issues 

Conflict with family members, friends, or co-workers often leads to negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, frustration, and depression. When people with poor coping skills find themselves dealing with high levels of stress due to interpersonal issues, their risk for relapse increases. If they fail to manage their emotions, they’re likely to turn to alcohol or drugs to find relief. 

  • Exposure to Triggers 

Social and environmental cues that remind a person of alcohol and drugs may trigger intense cravings that lead to a relapse. While social cues include seeing a drug dealer or a friend who uses alcohol or drugs, environmental cues include coming in contact with smells, objects, and places that the person associates with their substance of choice.  

  • Physical Pain 

Physicians usually prescribe narcotics to patients who experience pain due to accidents, injuries, or medical conditions. Unfortunately, many pain patients try to alleviate chronic or acute pain on their own by seeking out these types of drugs illegally. Without the supervision of a medical professional, patients with a history of addiction issues may have a challenging time controlling their use of highly addictive pain medication 

  • Peer Pressure or Negative Support System 

Being around family members or friends with addiction issues increases a person’s risk of experiencing a relapse. These people often pressure a recovering addict to use alcohol and drugs. Even if they don’t, their mere presence can stir up strong urges that cause the recovering addict to relapse.  

  • Low Self-Efficacy 

Low self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief in their capacity and ability to execute the necessary behaviors to produce specific performance achievements. Someone with low self-efficacy in their ability to maintain their sobriety is more likely to relapse than those who are confident in their ability to stay sober. 

What Are the Stages of an Addiction Relapse?

What Are the Stages of an Addiction Relapse?

Most people view an addiction relapse as an actual event. However, in reality, a relapse is a slow process that may start days, weeks, or months before the physical relapse occurs. Unless a person is aware of the stages involved in a relapse, it’s impossible to figure out what’s required for relapse prevention.

  • Emotional Relapse Stage 

The onset of the emotional relapse stage begins long before the person picks up a drink or drug. Their actions may start paving the path toward a relapse even if they’re not thinking about using substances. Stress often initiates triggers that cause anxiety, anger, depression, frustration, irritability, and loneliness. 

If the person fails to acknowledge and accept these emotions, they won’t regain control of their body as these emotions take over. It’s only a matter of time before they start abandoning their routine, isolating themselves, developing an irregular sleep schedule, neglecting self-care, and skipping meetings or therapy.  

  • Mental Relapse Stage 

During a mental relapse stage, the person becomes increasingly aware of holding their conflicting views and feelings about sobriety. Although a part of them wants to remain sober, another part is secretly battling cravings or coming up with ways to relapse. Recovering addicts in this stage or relapse often find themselves entertaining memories of past alcohol or drug use, minimizing the harmful effects of using, and thinking about opportunities to get high. 

Since dwelling on these unhealthy thoughts will further reinforce the cravings, a healthy approach is to address them without denial or fear and let them pass. In such instances, using distractions will give the person enough time for their rational thinking to take control once the urge has passed. 

  • Physical Relapse Stage 

Physical relapse is the worst of all stages because it involves actualizing the urges to use alcohol or drugs. As the person drives to the liquor store or contacts a drug dealer, they struggle with feelings of guilt, anger, shame, disappointment, and hopelessness. Additionally, they’ll feel that they have little to no control over using their substance of choice.  

Although it may be challenging to stop while physical relapse is in motion, it’s possible to interrupt it. Experts recommend preparing exit strategies as the recovering addict preemptively imagines these scenarios.

Are You Looking for the Best Rehab for Veterans?

Best Rehab for Veterans

At Heroes’ Mile, we believe in veterans serving veterans who experience problems with addiction and other invisible wounds of war. You don’t have to fight this battle alone – we can win the war together. Call us now to get the help you need.


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