Relapse doesn’t happen overnight. Several relapse warning signs appear before you fall completely back into chemical dependency. In addition, one slip may not mean you’ve totally relapsed (see our article about slip vs. relapse). If you or your loved one lives with addiction, knowing the relapse warning signs can help you stay ahead of the disease.
1. Getting Stuck in Recovery
Warning Sign: You become unwilling or unable to confront a problem.
You’ve stopped using drugs and alcohol but your problems are still around. Recovery requires you to deal with life’s struggles. The first relapse warning sign is a problem appears that you can’t deal with. You get “stuck” in the recovery plan. For people who use the 12 Steps, this can be an unwillingness to ask forgiveness. In every day circumstances the problem could be as simple as an not having enough money to pay bills, or being unable to reconnect with your family.
2. Denying You’re Stuck
Warning Sign: You ignore the problem.
Convincing yourself and others that “everything is okay” only worsens the problem. Your energy goes into denying the problem instead of fixing it. Stress and pain build up in you, which can only dampen your mental, emotional, and spiritual strengths. Denial can manifest itself in many ways. Perhaps you explain that you don’t need someone’s forgiveness or that you don’t have time to ask for it. Maybe you put off paying the bills again or blame the utility company for overchargin. Denial can be as subtle as burying loneliness deep in you, and not admitting that you miss your family.
3. Using Other Compulsions
Warning Sign: You distract yourself from the problem.
The problem creates anxiety. Turning to compulsive behavior is a way to sooth and hide that anxiety without dealing with the problem. These behaviors masks how you really feel. They can be related to eating, dieting, exercising, working, having sex, gaming, or any activity that lets you disassociate from what’s actually bothering you.
4. Experiencing a Trigger Event
Warning Sign: Something happens and you feel yourself lose control.
Whether it’s big or little, an event occurs that pushes you over the edge. More often than not, it’s a little problem that you could easily navigate. But not this time. You snap. The outburst might last only a short while. There is a definite change in thinking though- one that doesn’t turn off.
5. Becoming Dysfunctional on the Inside
Warning Sign: Mental chaos.
Emotions take over your mind. Your mood swings from over-reaction to numbness. You lose your spiritual center and sense of self. Control is lost as the emotional side of the brain takes over. Sometimes you can hide the chatter, but doing so only amplifies its effects.
6. Becoming Dysfunctional on the Outside
Warning Sign: Your mental state effects daily life.
You lose more and more control over your reactions. It effects how you interact with others and ends up pushing people away. Eventually you neglect yourself and the recovery process.
7. Spiraling Out of Control
Warning Sign: You are unwilling or unable to deal with more and more problems.
The previous relapse warning signs keep popping up in your daily life. You deny that things are out of hand. You delve deeper into compulsive behaviors. You confront more people. You withdraw from life. The anxiety builds up, even as you try to put on a good face.
8. Using Addictive Thinking
Warning Sign: You begin to think sobriety is bad for you.
Things are tough. You addicted brain tells you that it’s because you’re sober. Sober people don’t understand what you’re going through. The sober lifestyle just doesn’t work for you. These lies make you forget about the positive, and look to the past for relief.
9. Returning to Addictive People and Places
Warning Sign: Visiting places and people associated with your drug or alcohol use.
In an attempt to “get away” from the recovery lifestyle, you return to your usual hangouts and buddies. You may even think “I’m not going to do anything.” Surrounding yourself with familiar faces seems comforting. After all, when you were at these places you didn’t have problems like you do now.
10. Using addictive Substances
Warning Sign: Consuming a drug or drinking.
It may be your previous drug of choice, or something entirely new. You think, “Just a little bit. Just this one.” It always seems harmless at first.
11. Losing Control Over Use
Warning Sign: Active Addiction
Just once turns into just on the weekends. A little bump at a party turns into a week gone to another black-out. The shame returns. You can’t stop yourself. It’s the downward spiral of an active addiction all over again.
It doesn’t have to be this way. At any point during the relapse process you can ask for help. You are not in this alone. Loved ones, a support group, and practiced professionals want to see you succeed. People who live in recovery from addiction know that relapse is always a possibility. Let go of shame. Fine the courage to share your struggles with others. We have to help each other along.
If you or your loved shows relapse warning signs, reach out! Connecting with others is the best way to stop addiction.