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Signs You May Be Headed For Relapse

“Recovery is hard. Regret is harder.”  – Brittany Burgunder

Relapse, or the recurrence of drug or alcohol use following a period of remission, is common among those with diagnosed substance use disorders (SUDs). It is estimated that relapse rates fall between 40-60% (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Yes, relapse can be an unfortunate part of the recovery process, but these statistics do not have to include you. 

study by the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology revealed that substance use disorder (SUD) treatment can significantly reduce relapse rates, and that relapse is preventable. If you are working toward long-term sobriety and want to avoid a relapse, it’s vital to recognize the common warning signs and take action to keep them from continuing. 

The Relapse Syndrome

Relapse doesn’t happen when the addict uses the drug for the first time after abstinence. It starts before then. The relapse syndrome makes the addict feel discomfort and pain while not using it. These feelings become so bad that he becomes unable to live normally anymore without drugs or alcohol. 

Alcoholics Anonymous calls this a dry drunk but this syndrome is recognized in all areas of addiction. It is abstinence without recovery. The distress can become so bad that the addict begins to believe that using the drug can’t be any worse than the pain of staying clean.

10 Warning Signs

It’s important to recognize the warning signs along the way to prevent a “slip” from becoming a full-blown relapse.

1. Scattered Emotions

Before rehabilitation, those suffering from addiction were used to living and functioning in a certain way when it came to dealing with emotions.

During recovery, the difficulty in managing the roller coaster of emotions while also managing life still exists and can make even the most successful person in recovery revert back to old behaviors. Be mindful of these emotional triggers, even when they only start as whispers.

2. Recurrence of Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms such as depression, sleep problems, anxiety, memory loss, and stomach issues can continue long after you quit using substances.

These are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) and most commonly return during times of stress. This is dangerous because you may be tempted to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

3. Added Stress

Major life changes or even small issues slowly building over time can cause added stress. Going back to the “real world” after spending time in residential care can account for many stressful situations.

The threat is if you begin over-reacting to those situations. You’ll show them! You’ll start using it again and punish them for their actions! Notice any exaggerated positive or negative feelings and mood swings during these times.

4. Dismissal and Denial

You don’t deny that you have a substance use disorder but you start denying that stress is getting to you. You try to convince yourself that everything is fine but underneath you are nervous and scared.

But on the outside, you dismiss these feelings and say, “I’m fine” and stop sharing those feelings with others. Nobody is immune from slipping back into destructive behaviors, so stay in reality and be wary of triggers.

5. Behavior changes and loss of structure

In recovery, you had a fixed schedule and order to your day. In early sobriety, you replaced your compulsive behaviors with healthy alternatives. Now, you’re not eating enough or going to bed at odd hours. You begin to practice avoidance or become defensive in situations that need an honest judgment of your behavior.

6. Isolation/social breakdown

Changes like increased isolation and secretive behaviors often precede a relapse. You might have begun to feel uncomfortable around other people and making excuses not to socialize. You may also have stopped the interests and creativity that you developed in rehabilitation to now engage in old manipulative patterns of behavior.

7. Loss of commitment to your recovery program

You decide that participating in your recovery program is just not as important as it was. Counseling and meetings are boring. You feel something is wrong, but can’t identify exactly what it is.

8. Lack of judgment

You make unhealthy decisions or you have trouble making any decision. It becomes difficult to think clearly and you are easily confused. You may feel overwhelmed for no apparent reason. You just can’t relax and you may become annoyed or angry easily. 

9. Loss of control

You make choices that are irrational and you are unable to change them. You start to actively cut out people who can help you. Perhaps you might start thinking that you can go back to social drinking and recreational drug use and be able to control it.

You go back to hanging out with your drinking and/or drugging buddies. Or you lose confidence in your ability to manage your life and believe that there is no hope.

10. Loss of Options

You’ve begun to limit your options. You stop going to all your meetings with counselors and support groups. You stop your medication treatments. Anger, loneliness, frustration, resentment, and tension are common. You might feel helpless and desperate.

End of Warnings: Relapse

You try to engineer a controlled, “social” or short-term alcohol or drug use comeback but you’re disappointed with the results. Now you feel shame and guilt.

This shame and guilt fuels your emotions, you lose control, and your addiction spirals even further out of control. This brings about increasing problems with relationships, jobs, money, mental, and physical health. You need help getting sober again.

It is important that you get back up and get back on the path to recovery. Addiction is a chronic disease, and treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors, and relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. 

4 Principles in Relapse Prevention

There are four main ideas in preventing a relapse. They include:

  1. Relapse is a gradual process with noticeable stages. The goal of your treatment is to help you recognize the early stages when the chance of success is the best.
  2. Recovery is a process of personal growth with achievements in personal development. Each stage of recovery has its own risk of relapsing.
  3. The main tools for relapse prevention are cognitive therapy and mind-body relaxation. These are used to help develop healthy coping skills.
  4. Most relapses can be explained by a few basic rules. Learning these rules can help you focus on what is important.

The Basic Rules:

  • Change your life. Recovery involves creating a new life where it is easier not to use drugs or alcohol.
  • Be totally honest.
  • Ask for help.
  • Practice self-care. 
  • Don’t bend the rules.

A Chronic Disease

Relapse after treatment doesn’t mean that the treatment failed. Like other chronic diseases including heart disease or asthma, treatment for addiction isn’t necessarily a cure. Relapse rates for drug use are similar to rates for other chronic medical illnesses. The rate of relapse for SUDs is 40-50%. And the relapse rates for hypertension and asthma are 50-70%.

The chronic character of addiction means that for some people a relapse can be part of the process. When a person recovering from addiction relapses, it means that the person needs to speak to their medical professional about resuming treatment, modifying their treatment, or trying a different treatment.

Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply ingrained behaviors. Addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment helps you counteract the disruptive effects addiction had on your brain and behavior. It helps you regain control of your life.

Relapse Prevention Plan

It’s important to recognize the warning signs and stages. Relapse happens in three stages and the 10 warning signs all fall within these stages. You need to be aware of each of them. The stages are:

  • Emotional relapse: You’re not considering using drugs again but your thoughts and behaviors are setting you up and you don’t even know it. Your emotions are bottled up. You’re not keeping healthy behaviors.
  • Mental relapse: You romanticize the good times when you were using. You start bargaining with yourself and planning to use it again.
  • Physical relapse: This is when you actually start using drugs or alcohol again. It starts with one slip and leads back to regular use.

Know your triggers—There are certain places, people, and situations that will drive you back to drinking or using drugs again. Be aware of your triggers. These are the most common:

  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Bad relationships
  • People who enable you
  • Drug paraphernalia that reminds you of using
  • Places where you used to use
  • Loneliness
  • Stress
  • Poor self-care

Remember your reasons for quitting—When you have that urge to use, remind yourself of the reasons you started recovery in the first place. Think about all the things and people that are driving you to stay sober.

Daylight Recovery Services is Here to Help You

The road to recovery can be filled with bumps and potholes. But you can still get where you want to go. If you recognized yourself in those warnings or stages, it’s not too late to get back on your way to your goals. We have treatment programs that will suit you no matter where you are on your path. 

Or maybe you need some advice and don’t have anyone else to turn to. Contact us today. Our addiction experts are available 24 hours a day, every day of the week.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition and a substance use disorder or addiction, get help now. Mental health and substance use disorders often co-occur and need to be treated simultaneously as a dual diagnosis for the best outcome in recovery.

Get help today and take the first step toward restored health, a renewed spirit, and a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

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