Three Stages of Relapse

Pastor Ed Young - Lead Pastor of Fellowship Church
Ed Young

May 11, 2024

Three Stages of Relapse


1 Corinthians 10:12 “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.”


It's a sobering statistic that 85 percent of those trying to break free from harmful behavioral patterns experience relapse. This isn't just a random misstep; it's the culmination of a series of choices. There's a powerful truth in the saying, "You make your choices, and then your choices make you." Understanding that relapse is a process rather than an isolated event can empower us to make better decisions each day.

This process of relapse unfolds in three distinct stages, each requiring awareness and action. We often concentrate on the problematic behavior itself—be it a habit, a compulsion or an addiction—as the main issue. However, these behaviors are typically symptoms of deeper underlying issues; they are maladaptive solutions rather than the root problem. By shifting our focus from the symptoms to the underlying causes, we can begin to address the real issues at hand.

The journey often starts with emotional relapse, where individuals may find themselves reminiscing about the temporary relief their behaviors once provided. Signs of this stage include isolating oneself, skipping support meetings, relaxing personal boundaries, and being in denial about one’s struggles. This phase sets the foundation for further decline if not promptly addressed.

As the process deepens, the next phase—mental relapse—takes hold. Here, the craving for old habits intensifies, accompanied by memories of past indulgences (euphoric recall), fantasies about the behavior, downplaying of consequences, and internal bargaining to justify potential lapses. If these thoughts are not managed, they can lead to the third stage: physical relapse.

This final stage is where actions follow thoughts, often under the guise of "just this once." Recognizing and intervening during these early stages can prevent the cycle from escalating to this critical point. As we walk this path, let us remember to lean on God’s strength and seek the support of our God-given community to maintain our resolve and continue our journey towards healing and wholeness.


Muhammad Ali once said, “I never won a fight in the ring. I always won the fight on the streets and in the gym, training for months before the bell rang for the first round.” It is all about preparation. You don’t avoid relapse by waiting until the temptation hits and then responding. You need a relapse avoidance plan in advance.


Father, I don’t want to relapse. But I’m going to take it one day at a time. I’m not saying I will never fall again, but I am saying that it won’t happen today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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