With addiction treatment, it’s possible for a chronic substance user to medically detox, overcome withdrawal, and drastically reduce their dependence on their substance of choice. However, addiction treatment, while effective, isn’t permanent. Between 40 and 60 percent of alcoholics and addicts who have received addiction treatment end up relapsing within a year.
Is this because addiction treatment isn’t effective? Or because these people are weak-willed?
No. It’s because addiction is that powerful. Addiction restructures the wiring of your brain, in some ways permanently. Even years, or decades after your initial addiction recovery, it’s possible for a person to slip – and start using their substance of choice once again.
Fortunately, if you learn to recognize the warning signs of relapse, you can work proactively to regain control over your life – before it’s too late.
Signs of Relapse to Notice
Relapse doesn’t typically happen all at once. It doesn’t arise suddenly, with no prompt, after years of sobriety. Instead, it creeps up slowly, in physical, mental, and emotional ways.
On the path to relapse, you’ll often notice the following signs:
- Higher stress. The first sign you’ll often notice is higher stress. That stress could come from anywhere. It could be a strain on your relationship or a bad breakup. It could be a busy or stressful period at work. Or it could arise out of nothing, for no discernable reason. The bottom line is, if you feel a lot of extra stress, it could set you on the path to relapse if you ignore it or don’t manage it properly.
- A change in mentality or attitude. Next, you’ll typically experience a change in your mentality or attitude. This can be difficult to notice, so you have to watch for it proactively. On the road to relapse, many recovering addicts go from feeling optimistic and at peace to feeling pessimistic and anxious. You may also feel ashamed, trapped, or angry at your surroundings.
- Ongoing denial. Addicts often deny that they have a serious problem, which leads them to continue engaging in destructive behaviors. It’s one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when getting addiction treatment for the first time. However, recovering addicts can also struggle with denial; they may deny that they’re feeling exceptionally stressed, or deny that it’s possible for them to relapse at all. When you feel something negative, or when you sense an intrusive thought about using drugs, do you attempt to pretend it didn’t happen?
- A surge in withdrawal symptoms. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can leave you with residual withdrawal symptoms that persist for months, or even years after the final time you’ve used a substance. These can recur suddenly, leaving you unable to sleep, or feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed. If these come at the wrong time, or if they catch you off guard, it could make you more likely to relapse.
- Habit or behavioral changes. Drug use is often tied to our habits and behaviors. If you go back to some of the routines you held when using drugs, it can make you crave those substances again. Forming new habits and behavioral patterns can help you resist this, but if those new habits and routines break down, it could push you back toward a relapse.
- Social changes. Social changes are both a byproduct of and a catalyst for other warning signs of relapse. If your habits and routines begin to change and if you’re experiencing a lot of stress, you may push people away or fall out of contact with your good friends. Then, the lack of friendship and support in your life could leave you feeling isolated and even more stressed. Without a social safety net, it will be harder to manage your urges to relapse.
- A schedule breakdown. Keeping to a routine is important for addiction recovery; it gives you something important to focus on and keeps you working toward your goals. When that schedule begins to crack and break down, it leaves room for bad habits and behaviors to creep in. Are you canceling appointments? Are you skipping social events? Are you failing to keep to your personal schedule, neglecting your personal hygiene and household chores?
- Poor judgment or impulsive decisions. Often after experiencing several of the warning signs above, a person will begin to exhibit poor judgment and make impulsive decisions. This could manifest as small decisions, like indulging in fast food in response to a craving, or bigger, more impactful ones, like gambling or breaking the law.
- A loss of hope. Soon after experiencing some of these signs, you may feel a loss of hope intruding in your mind. You may feel bad about the decisions you’ve made or your current position, and you may feel like your own relapse is inevitable. At this point, you need to make a serious shift in your mental state if you’re going to recover.
- A loss of control. After feeling hopeless, many people experience a loss of control. They feel less in charge of their own decisions and habits – and stop thinking proactively about their choices. Relapsing at this point is a matter of impulse, rather than being a conscious decision.
Of course, none of these warning signs is a guarantee that you’re going to relapse. If you’re conscious and aware enough that this is happening, you’ll have all the time and all the power you need to fight back. Work to cope with your difficulties in life and preserve your current healthy habits and behaviors; the sooner and more consistently you act, the greater your chances of success will be.
If you do relapse, try not to feel ashamed, defeated, or hopeless. This is an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience – as long as you’re willing to get the help you need. If you’ve recently relapsed or if you’re struggling at any point in your addiction recovery journey, contact Just Believe Recovery Center today to get the help and support you need.