Mental Relapse – During this stage of the relapse process a person starts to consider drinking or using drugs, usually to cope with difficult emotions, or perhaps to celebrate happy ones. If they are in this stage of the process, they might start thinking about reasons why they should use, or they might weigh out the consequences of using. They might think things like, “If I use just this one time I can sweep it under the rug and no one will ever have to know.” There is likely a major conflict going on in the mind. If a person finds themselves in this stage of the relapse process, it is critical they reach out for help immediately. Otherwise there is a very good chance a physical relapse will occur.
Physical Relapse – This stage of the relapse process takes place when the person actually physically starts using drugs or drinking alcohol again. Most relapses are considered “relapses of opportunity,” meaning that the person picks up when he or she feels like there is no risk of getting caught. It is important to understand that when a person experiences a relapse it is not necessarily important how much they drank or how much they used. Any physical relapse, no matter how small, will trigger a compulsion to drink or use more. This means it is critical to return to recovery as quickly as possible before the compulsion, cravings and obsession have a chance to gain strength.