Connection between Stress and Relapse

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Relapse is one of the greatest dangers to anyone that is recovering from addiction. By returning to your old ways, you are basically throwing all of your hard work until then through the proverbial window. There are a lot of things that can lead to relapse but stress is one of the most common and significant ones. While stress is usually carefully managed while you are staying at an addiction treatment center in Florida, living on your own and managing your recovery can be extremely stressful. The connection between stress and relapse is so profound that most people claim to have relapsed simply because they feel “stressed out” by having to live a sober life. In this article, we are going to help you understand the connection, and provide you with a few ways in which you can mitigate your stress and prevent relapse.

Understanding the connection between stress and relapse

The fact of the matter is that everyone has to deal with stress. More often than not, we are dealing with various levels of stress on a daily basis. Furthermore, there are various life situations that can increase our stress levels, such as a dysfunctional marriage, a dead-end job, or an uncertain housing situation. When faced with these stressors, many people find that they simply can’t deal with them. Some turn to alcohol, others turn to drugs, while yet others try to find other ways to reduce their stress levels. The problem is that most people, after some time, develop an addiction to the substance that helps them cope with stress.

person in a car, opening a glass bottle
Many people turn to alcohol to try and relieve stress.

Needless to say, an addiction to any substance can thoroughly change your life. You may be able to deal with stress a bit better, yes, but your health and quality of life will suffer in the process. Someone who is addicted to alcohol, for example, may start ruining their relationships while also finding themselves in financial trouble. While it is possible to get treatment at an alcohol rehab Florida center, it is always best not to allow things to go that far. Furthermore, if a particular substance is your only way of dealing with stress, you have a much higher chance of relapse even after your rehab program.

To understand the connection between stress and relapse, we first need to take a look at what makes people relapse in the first place.

What causes relapse?

There are many things that can lead someone to relapse. As every person is unique, there are practically countless reasons why someone can relapse to their old ways. However, most people report that stress was the precursor to their relapse. Whether it was stress due to work issues, emotional/psychological issues, or economical problems, the connection between stress and relapse is evident. Furthermore, some people started feeling much more stress after relapsing, as they did not know whether does insurance cover rehab for the second time. While reasons for relapse may be as varied as there are people, there are some that are more common than others, including:

  • Pre-existing mental health/emotional issues
  • Stress
  • Situations that remind the person of their former drug use

It is also worth noting that relapse does not occur immediately. For example, a person might not relapse as soon as they see their old crew, or whenever they have a work problem. In fact, relapse usually happens in three stages.

two glass jars full of red liquid
Relapse does not happen immediately, there is a certain process to it.

The three stages of relapse

There are three stages of relapse: Emotional relapse, Mental relapse, and Physical relapse. In the emotional stage, you may not even be consciously aware that you might be considering relapsing into your old ways. What happens instead is that your actions and emotions start to change in subtle ways. During this stage, you may experience unexplained mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or even depression. Emotional relapse is extremely common, and it happens to almost everyone that completes their recovery at an oxycodone rehab center, for example. Once emotional relapse runs its course, however, the second stage – mental relapse- begins.

Mental relapse happens as soon as someone actively starts to consider whether they should relapse or not. It is characterized by a personal struggle, a war with oneself. During the mental relapse stage, a person will constantly go back and forth arguing with themselves whether they should relapse or not. A part of you might want to relapse but the other part is aware that it is a really bad decision. This stage can last for years, and it may even last a lifetime in some cases. Needless to say, this stage induces huge amounts of stress and can be extremely draining to contend with for longer periods of time.

The last stage, physical relapse, is when you start using substances again. It is the simplest stage but the most dangerous one. Once you return to using, you may find it even more difficult to become sober again.

Warning signs of relapse

Since relapse occurs in three stages, it is possible to spot the warning signs and react accordingly. The first sign that you might be able to spot is romanticizing drug use. Most people in recovery tend to remember the “good ol’ days” and speak quite fondly of their past experiences. While this may seem to be quite harmless, it is in fact extremely dangerous for anyone in recovery. By linking your substance use with positivity, you are effectively creating fertile soil for relapse to take root. If you don’t act on it, you will get into the mental relapse stage before you know it.

red glowing light in a corner
There will be quite a few warning signs before a relapse occurs.

Most of the time, romanticizing past substance use happens if you are hanging out with your old crowd. Depending on the circumstances, you might not have any other choice. If you find yourself in a situation where you simply can’t avoid talking about your past drug use with your social circle, you may want to consider enrolling in a partial hospitalization program Florida. That way, you will have a safe space to go to and people to talk to that can actually help.

Behavioral changes

More often than not, any significant change in behavior will indicate a relapse. If someone starts isolating themselves and avoiding their support system, chances are that they have already relapsed. And if not, they are about to. This is why it is extremely important to carefully monitor someone in recovery, as their behavior is the best indicator of how they are doing. If they are feeling extremely stressed out, chances are that they are going to relapse at some point.

The primary issue with behavioral changes is that they can be quite subtle at times. Someone who is considering a relapse will usually do their best to hide their intentions, after all. However, there will always be small signs that you might be able to spot. One of the most glaring warning signs of relapse is when someone in recovery starts to doubt whether their recovery process is effective or not. Most of the time, however, you will need to carefully analyze the person’s overall behavior.

If you are trying to prevent a loved one from relapsing, you will also want to get in touch with their treatment center from time to time, especially if your loved one is attending an IOP Palm Beach program, for example. While it may sound “sneaky”, you will want to ask your loved one questions about their time at the center and have the staff verify the answers. Dishonesty is one of the most common signs of relapse, after all, and you will want to spot it earlier rather than later.

How is stress connected to relapse?

The connection between stress and relapse lies in the way that your brain processes stress. When you are under the influence of a particular stressor, your brain activity changes. This is why most people turn to substance abuse in the first place. Some people in recovery may also seek out high-stress situations specifically to “justify” their relapse. More often than not, however, these people also have an underlying mental health issue that is a contributing factor. The best way to solve these issues is to attend a dual-diagnosis inpatient rehab Florida program. However, there are other connections between stress and relapse, such as falling victim to self-medication. People that are under a large deal of stress usually try to self-medicate before they see a medical professional.

connected beads, representing the connection between stress and relapse
The connection between stress and relapse is complicated but undeniable.


While medications may provide immediate relief, they are usually a simple band-aid, so to speak. Drugs and other substances may initially relieve stress but they create more problems than they solve. Over time, if the person does nothing about the stressors themselves, it will take more and more substances to relieve stress. This usually leads to addiction. Recovering addicts might have it even harder, as they used to rely on their substances of choice to combat stress. It is quite natural that they turn back to them once the stress becomes too much difficult to handle.

The reason why using drugs and other substances to relieve stress is so dangerous is that your brain starts to connect drugs with stress relief. Even if you have been sober for a while, every stressful situation might turn you toward at least thinking of using substances. This, in turn, leads to both emotional and mental relapse, with physical relapse not far behind.

The best thing that you can do is try and reduce your stress by other methods. By “rewiring” your brain into using something else than substances to overcome stress, you will considerably reduce the chance of relapse, if not eliminate it completely. However, this can be quite difficult, as nothing is as easy as simply taking drugs or other substances.

How to reduce stress and prevent relapse

There are several ways in which you can reduce stress and prevent relapse, including:

  • Meditation
  • Maintaining friendships and personal relationships
  • Laughter
  • Being out and about

However, as every person is quite unique, there may be other methods as well. Avoiding stressful situations is usually helpful but that does nothing when you are facing your stressors. It is usually best to be proactive with stress by developing healthy coping skills instead of avoiding all the sources of stress. The fact of the matter is that avoiding stress is practically impossible. In other words, no matter what you do, you can expect stress to rear its ugly head from time to time. This is why almost every heroin rehab Florida program places a large emphasis on developing healthy coping skills, such as meditation.

person sitting in front of a wall
Healthy coping skills will put a wall between you and relapse.

Meditation can reduce stress

Meditation is one of the best ways to reduce stress and achieve a higher degree of self-awareness. Since the connection between stress and relapse is quite clear, meditation will also help you avoid relapsing into your old ways. Consider meditation to be a skill, similar to carpentry or any other. It may be quite difficult, to begin with, but it gets progressively easier over time. Furthermore, there are many different types of meditation and you are sure to find one that works for you. The simplest type is usually good enough, however, as it involves sitting up straight, relaxing all the muscles in your body, and taking deep, controlled, breaths.

While you are meditating, your focus will shift from the things that are stressing you out to something else. Most meditating techniques have you focus on your breath or on a part of your body, but your focus can be practically anything. Through meditation, you will learn how to exclude all the unhelpful thoughts and feelings and focus on the moment. By doing so, you will inevitably reduce your stress levels and minimize the chance of relapse.

Healthy friendships are important

When you are feeling stressed, the worst thing you can do is be alone with yourself. Stress has a compounding effect and it may become progressively worse over the course of time if nothing is done about it. Now, while you can’t always remove the source of your stress, what you can do is talk about it. However, talking about your stress with a random person is not really helpful. What you want to do is talk about your problems with people whom you care for and who care for you in turn.

Therefore, you will want to put some effort into maintaining your personal relationships and healthy friendships. Try to reach out to your friends and family members whenever you have the time and inclination. Let them know that you are stressed and that you need to talk about it. Simply having someone listen to your problems is a great way to relieve some of the stress you might be feeling. If you want the best results, however, you may want to talk to someone that might be able to truly understand you.

two people looking at buildings
Healthy friendships go a long way toward minimizing stress and preventing relapse.

For example, let’s say that you have recently recovered from meth addiction. You will most likely have contacts at a meth rehab Florida center you attended, who will be able to fully understand what you are going through. By talking to them and sharing the sources of your stress, you may find the entire situation much more bearable. Furthermore, talking to people who have been through similar experiences as your own can provide you with a new sense of perspective.

Simple laughter can defeat stress

Stress is always associated with negative feelings. Therefore, to fight stress, you need something that creates positive feelings. Laughter is one of the best ways to combat stress. Simply laughing can not only reduce stress but can reduce anxiety and many other mental health issues. Since the connection between stress and relapse usually relies on negative emotions and feelings, laughing them off with a fun group of people can be extremely therapeutic.

Due to how powerful laughter is, you should always try to hang around people that can make you laugh. If you are feeling constantly stressed out and on the verge of relapse, you might want to consider who you’re spending your time with. The fact of the matter is that our social activities have an enormous impact on our stress levels. By hanging around fun people, people that you love spending your time with, stress can usually be reduced to manageable levels.

Moving around is a great way to overcome stress

One of the best ways to keep stress in check is to simply be up and about. While moving around, you will find plenty of distractions to take your mind off stressful situations. The more vigorously you move, the better. Aside from simply allowing you to take your mind off stressful things, being active is good for your health as well. This is why almost every addiction treatment program includes some form of exercise. By exercising, you are releasing positive chemicals into your bloodstream, making you feel better. If you want to maximize stress relief, however, invite a friend or family member to join you when you are spending your time moving around. That way, you can incorporate social activity, laughter, exercise, and stress relief all in one!

person running and thinking about the connection between stress and relapse
The more you move around, the easier it is to keep stress in check.

Relapse prevention 101

Even though the connection between stress and relapse is quite significant, there are ways to prevent relapse even if you can’t reduce your stress levels. First and foremost, you will want to take control of your life. Of course, this is easier said than done but that is absolutely necessary. If you need help with gaining control, you can always turn to your local treatment center for help and guidance. After you have full control, you will want to understand the relapse process in its entirety. Learning more about the various stages of relapse is a good start. You will also need to understand the many signs of relapse.

Lastly, you may want to surround yourself with observant people who care for you. They might be able to figure out that you are going through an emotional relapse and help you overcome your issues. Furthermore, it can be quite difficult to see what you are doing when you are the one doing it. Sometimes, it takes an outside observer to be able to figure out what is going on.

Where to seek help for overcoming stress and avoiding relapse

The worst thing you can do to avoid relapse is to resort to self-medication. While self-medication can provide you with an immediate reprieve, it actually hampers your recovery process in the long run. This is due to the fact that there might be situations where you don’t have access to medications when you really need them. It is much better to build a coping system that does not rely on any medications.

The best way to make sure that you don’t relapse is to attend therapy. Even though you might feel that you had enough therapy to last you a lifetime, it is usually exactly what you need. Learning as many relapse prevention techniques will make you stronger, more resilient, and much more capable to deal with any stray thoughts.

person undergoing talk therapy
Talk therapy is one of the best ways to handle stress and prevent relapse.

Ideally, you should find therapy sessions that are easy for you to attend. If you have to make huge allowances to accommodate therapy sessions, chances are that you will simply stop attending them at some point. Therefore, it is usually best to talk to a local treatment center and see what kind of programs they have to offer. Most of the time, you will be able to attend a specialized outpatient program or simply visit the center for a weekly therapy session.

If you happen to live near Boynton Beach, you can always pay a visit to Bright Futures Treatment Center. We are always happy to help anyone who might be struggling with relapse. We can also provide you with numerous treatment options, including CBT, DBT, group sessions, and other therapeutic activities. At the very least, you can always share your problems with our compassionate staff and they will help you get your life back on track!

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