HALT: What to Know About Relapse

Home | HALT: What to Know About Relapse

Measuring success in recovery can be tricky.

Is success one substance-free day, following the “one day at a time” philosophy of many recovery programs? Is it months or years of sobriety? What about relapse? After all, addiction is a chronic disease, and chances for relapse are high, between 40 and 60%.

We would argue that a successful recovery can–and probably will–incorporate one or more relapses. A relapse doesn’t spell disaster. With the right approach and support, relapse can be a milestone in the recovery journey.

Defining Relapse & Its Stages

Understanding addiction and how relapse develops over time can help those in recovery know how to read their own warning signs and take steps to get back on track. Relapse tends to occur in three stages.

The Emotional Stage

Many people in residential treatment finish their programs strong and reach a place where they no longer emotionally connect to their substance of choice. However, if a person becomes overconfident, they may begin to fall into behaviors that lead to negative emotions about sobriety–impatience, frustration, boredom–and thus pave the path to relapse. Some examples of problematic behaviors may include:

  • Skipping support meetings or quitting meetings altogether
  • Isolating oneself
  • Adopting negative attitudes toward other people
  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Poor diet habits and lack of exercise

The Mental Stage

When people are mentally relapsing, many of their thoughts focus on the substance that used to control them. That can lead to the following behaviors:

  • Constant cravings for the drug
  • Romanticizing anything or anyone associated with substance use in the past
  • Inflating the positive aspects of past use and disregarding its negative outcomes
  • Actively looking for opportunities to use again
  • Actively planning ways to use again

The Physical Stage

The emotional and mental stages of relapse often lead to the physical stage, when the person starts using substances again.

Learning Relapse Triggers

Despite the dangers and discouragement of relapse, it is not the end of the world–or the end of recovery. It does not indicate failure. It does not mean that a person cannot recover and be stronger for the experience. However, knowing how to prevent relapses is a key factor in anyone’s recovery.


In the end, relapse can often be traced to the old acronym HALT. Hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are physical or emotional states that weaken the defenses–not just for those in recovery but for everyone. When we are tired, we make mistakes, react too fiercely, lose our ability to think clearly. When we are lonely, we make poor decisions about our well-being. When we are angry or hungry, nothing seems as important as making ourselves feel better as soon as possible. When HALT triggers arise, substance cravings may skyrocket as we search for ways to momentarily erase our problems.

Putting Well-being First

The key take-away for relapse prevention is to acknowledge that no one is perfect and that bouncing back from relapse is entirely possible. However, the best way to avoid relapse in the first place is by prioritizing the following:

  • Support in the form of meetings and counseling sessions
  • Staying healthy and active
  • Sleeping well and regularly
  • Being honest about and accountable for any thoughts, feelings, or idealizations about substances
  • Developing self-awareness by journaling and/or by asking friends and family for feedback

Well-being is the core of recovery and the bulwark against relapse. For more information about preventing, identifying, and coming back from relapse, reach out to our Iowa rehab today.

Researching Iowa addiction specialists? To learn more about programs offered at St. Gregory Recovery Center, call and speak with someone today, at (888) 778-5833.

Our graduates tell their stories…

When first arriving at St. Gregory I had mixed feelings about the health and wellness workouts. I came in at 136 lbs and didn’t think it was possible to reach...
- Chris
The good life is not merely a life free from addictions, physical and/or psychological—addictions that usually are the outward manifestations of deeper problems—but a life lived in harmonious balance, free...
- Matt
I came to St. Gregory’s at my all-time worst—physically, emotionally, and mentally. Having gone through a bad rehab experience once before, I had been very reluctant in succumbing to that...
- CJ
No matter where I start my thought process when reflecting upon my time before, during and after St. Gregory’s, I always seem to end up in the same place in...
- Kaele


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