Recovery Messages & News

Addiction The Relapse Continuum: It Happens Earlier Than You Think

By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist 


When asked ‘tell us about your relapse,’ most individuals will start by talking about the moment, or the moments right before, they started using their substance or process of choice again. While this is certainly important to explore from a self-learning and growth perspective, this focus neglects to consider what relapse behaviours, thoughts, and feelings may have been present for hours, days, weeks, and even months prior to their use. Using a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of recovery, it only makes sense to use this model with relapse prevention and education. Below we will explore the relapse continuum which is: spiritual-emotional/mental-social-physical…


When working with clients who struggle with Addiction, it becomes very clear that one of the first areas to become disconnected throughout their active Addiction is spirituality. Therefore, it only makes sense that this is one of the first areas to disconnect when people are also struggling with relapse. Often individuals in recovery will be starting to discover/rediscover and get in touch with their spirituality, whether through reading, self-reflection, prayer, attending church, or a variety of other ways. When exploring relapse, individuals will often concede that these happened less or stopped altogether preceding their relapse.


The next area that individuals in recovery put a lot of work, energy, and effort into is their emotional/mental health and wellbeing. This can include finding healthy ways to process emotions through meditation, journalling, reflection, talking to others, and exploring internal self-talk. In doing this, people feel more grounded, less reactive, and able to experience emotions across the spectrum including happiness, joy, gratitude, serenity, frustration, sadness, grief, and loss. When addictive thinking is becoming more prominent and emotions are feeling more volatile or numbed, this is emotional relapse which, if left unattended, can lead to substance or process use.


In the process of recovery, social connection starts to happen. People attend group therapy, 12 step meetings, reconnect with friends and family they have lost touch with, and build new relationships with people both in and out of recovery. Addiction is a disease of isolation, so many people will report finding any reason not to reach out or connect when their Addiction is starting to become more active. Once isolation is happening, the risk of substance or process relapse has increased.


By this point, individuals have often disconnected from many of the healthy tools they have been developing in their recovery. If they are unable to reconnect with their recovery and, in addition to this, are facing life stressors, are exposed to their substance of choice, and/or are in familiar environments where they used to use, then relapse is likely to occur. Therefore, it is important to be regularly checking in with oneself to see where your recovery is at and keep recovery the focus to help minimize the disease’s impact in your life. If you are currently experiencing any of these relapse warning signs, it is important to consider where and how to bring the focus back to recovery to keep yourself safe and healthy. Recovery works… if you work it!