Signs of Relapse in Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery is something that must be worked on every single day. The path to sobriety looks very different for all people attempting to break the chains of substance abuse. Every year thousands of people seek treatment to quit their drug of choice but end up failing and returning to their addiction. Addiction treatment centers and counselors refer to this sobriety hiatus as a relapse. Since recovery is an ongoing process, relapse is nothing to be ashamed of. However, you can be aware of these drug & alcohol relapse warning signs to try to intervene before your loved one goes back down the path of addiction.

As a friend, parent, sibling, child, or other relatives, if you are able to recognize early signs of relapse, you could help your loved one get sober again before they fall back into addiction. If you are working toward long-term sobriety and want to avoid having a relapse, it is important to recognize the following warning signs. If you can identify them, you can take action to keep them from progressing into a full-blown relapse. 

Why Does Relapse Happen?

Addictions are diseases, and just like all medical conditions, it is vital to be aware of the risk of relapse. Even the most effective treatment cannot necessarily eliminate this risk. With that in mind, relapse isn’t necessarily a conscious choice. Many sober people want to stay sober. However, addiction isn’t this logical and linear process. In fact, many experts agree that relapse can be an influential part of one’s recovery process. Relapses can happen for many reasons. Common situations include:

  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Significant life transitions
  • Medical issues
  • Financial problems
  • Trauma or major stressors
  • Lack of social support
  • Work or school problems
  • Being around triggering places or people
  • Mental health issues

Stages of Relapse in Recovery 

Like most people, you may have always thought that a drug or alcohol relapse occurs when a person begins using again. This is a common misperception. There is actually a cycle involved in relapsing, and while a person might be heading toward a relapse, that doesn’t always indicate that a relapse is imminent or unpreventable. Let’s take a closer look at the cycle of relapse. 

The Emotional Stage –

This is the stage when the potential for relapse begins. It can involve trigger situations or difficult events that bring about a longing for drugs or alcohol. This first stage is why so many professional advocates relearn how to live your life when you’re in recovery. Understanding that triggers are sometimes unavoidable and having a plan for how to cope with them is your best line of defense against being romanced by your substance or substances of choice. 

The Psychological Stage –

This stage is where a great deal of bargaining takes place. The recovering person will often have thoughts such as, “Only one use won’t hurt me” or “I’m strong enough to never do this again”. The addictive mind is a very powerful force, which is one of the key facts you learn when you’re in the beginning stages of your journey toward recovery. Once you’ve made peace with the idea of using drugs or alcohol again after you’ve been sober for a period of time, you’re more likely to enter into the last stage of relapse. 

The Physical Stage –

This is the final stage of relapse when the person actually uses drugs or alcohol. At first, there will most likely be a sense of euphoria that’s experienced. He or she might have thoughts of enjoying being reunited with an “old friend.” If the use occurs in a social situation, it can further reinforce those triggers that made those situations dangerous in the first place. The problem is that those good feelings rarely last for long, and once the high is over or once the person begins to sober up, the reality of what has happened begins to set in.

Common Relapse Triggers and Signs of Relapse to Look For

Addiction is a tricky disease and will try to sneak up on you when you are least expecting it. We have compiled this list of the most common addiction relapse triggers to get you thinking more deeply about how you can avoid triggers and stay solid in your addiction recovery. Keep an eye out for these common signs of relapse in recovery.

  • The acronym HALT is used to describe high-risk situations for those in recovery. When you are aware of this you can be vigilant in preventing yourself from entering those states. If recovery is your priority, then making sure you avoid becoming too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired will also need to become priorities. This may mean planning meals, sticking to a strict sleep schedule, and attending support groups.
  • Stress as a sign of relapse. Stress could possibly be the number-one addiction relapse trigger because of its broad range of effects on the mind and body. HALT can lead to stress, as can a thousand other circumstances that will differ for each individual. Losing a job or loved one, increased responsibility at home or work, and health problems can all create increased stress. The key here is being proactive about stress prevention and being mindful (and honest) about what causes stress for you.
  • The decline of self-care. Most addiction treatment programs teach the importance of self-care as critical component of relapse prevention. If you’ve stopped doing the things you know help you feel good so you’re better able to resist drugs and alcohol, pay attention. Self-care can be anything from exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep to attending individual therapy or keeping up with medication-assisted treatment for heroin addiction or opioid addiction.
  • A decline in self-care is another warning signs of relapse loved ones can look out for. You may not know if the individual in recovery is keeping up with therapy, appointments, or exercise, but you can look for more obvious indicators. If you notice basic self-care slipping, like hygiene, eating habits, or physical upkeep, this could be a sign your loved one is relapsing.
  • Mental illness as a sign of relapse in recovery. Depression, anxiety, and other underlying mental illnesses can trigger drug or alcohol relapse. Physical illness and pain can also put you at risk for relapsing, as your body is stressed. Prescription drugs for mental and physical illnesses can be mind-altering and trigger addiction and addiction relapse. Sharing that you are in recovery with your doctor and being insistent about providing non-addictive prescription drug alternatives is important. Get treatment for any underlying mental illness and monitor your thinking and feeling with a journal to help notice when you are slipping into old patterns.
  • Easy access. If, say, someone is recovering from alcoholism, going to a bar or keeping a full liquor cabinet in the home can present a temptation too strong to overcome. The same is true of drugs. It’s not unlike when you sneak an extra piece of chocolate or allow yourself a “cheat” day during a diet when you know you shouldn’t—just imagine those cravings exponentially intensified, and you’ll have a vague idea of what being exposed to drugs or alcohol feels like for a recovering addict.
  • You’re not going to your recovery meetings. (Or you’re going but not sharing.) Although you may not be thinking about using drugs or alcohol again, isolating yourself from your peers in recovery is a strong predictor of relapse. Avoiding your recovery meetings, or attending them but refusing to share, is a clear sign of emotional relapse, which often leads to physical relapse. Being fully committed to your treatment plan and being actively engaged in your recovery group (even when you don’t feel like it) is one of the best ways to safeguard your sobriety.

While it’s important to keep these triggers in mind, it’s equally important to familiarize yourself with your loved one’s specific relapse triggers as well. Everyone’s journey to recovery is unique; not everyone will be triggered by all of the above, and there may be more personal triggers outside of this list to consider. Talking with your loved one, as well as consulting a clinician, can help you determine what you need to watch out for and how to handle these triggers when they occur.

Steps to Preventing a Drug Relapse: Notice the Signs of Relapse

However, despite knowing how to prevent drug addiction relapses, setbacks can still occur. In the event of a relapse, you shouldn’t panic or assume you’ve failed at recovery. Instead, you can:

  • Examine what led to the relapse: Learning from a relapse can help prevent future setbacks.
  • Decide that the relapse was an isolated situation: In this case, you can recommit to recovery and move past a relapse by seeking support in a 12-step program and from peers in recovery.
  • Consider re-enrolling in treatment: If the relapse lasts for a significant amount of time, or if you feel that you cannot continue to maintain sobriety without help, going back into a treatment program can be beneficial.
  • Invest in professional mental health counseling: Cognitive behavioral therapy can be especially useful after a relapse. This therapy may be used in conjunction with substance abuse counseling to help change your thinking and behavior patterns to recommit to sobriety.

Signs of Relapse in Recovery with Little Creek

Drug relapse and substance abuse signs can be subtle, but recognizing them and stopping them at the beginning phase can keep you sober today. If you experience these warning signs, you should contact your support group and let them know your thoughts. Remember, the thought processes and habits that took you down the road of addiction are not going to change overnight. Learn to spot and counteract them. Even if a relapse occurs, it is not the end of the road. It is a common problem during recovery, so you must not lose hope and restructure your plan and get back to your journey towards recovery if it occurs.

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