If you or a loved one is recovering from alcohol or drugs and are concerned about relapse, rest assured you are not alone! Relapse is a natural part of recovery. Here are the top warning signs of relapse and ways to manage them to get back on track to healing.
A Few Statistics about Recovery and Relapse
Research from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that about 60% of people with substance abuse disorders eventually enter long-term sobriety. Yet many have at least one relapse and may need treatment several times.
It’s important to remember that healing from addiction is not a one-time event and requires significant changes across many life areas. Early recovery is an especially vulnerable time, and approximately half of people with alcohol use disorder will have a relapse within three months of detox.
Making any life change isn’t easy! And this is especially challenging when your body and brain are physiologically dependent on a substance. One of the best things you can do is show yourself some grace and forgiveness, knowing that relapse is a natural part of recovery.
If you suspect a loved one suffers from an alcohol or addiction problem, many resources are available for treatment and to help you identify relapse warning signs. Olympus Recovery can help walk you through the process with compassion and caring by calling (866) 305-7134.
What is Considered a Relapse?
The term relapse can be a bit complicated to understand since it’s both a process and an event. The process often starts before a person in recovery actually starts going back to using alcohol or drugs. You may begin to let go of some of the changes you initially made when you started sobriety and return to old thinking patterns and behaviors.
Early Warning Signs of the Relapse Process
Some of the early warning signs of relapse may be very subtle. Be mindful and honest with yourself and your support system since these signs can sneak up on you. Some of the early warning signs of relapse may be:
- Finding yourself thinking about or fantasizing about the past when you were actively drinking or using
- Starting to reconnect with people you knew in your active addiction
- Visiting places where you engaged in alcohol or drug use
- Stopping medications prescribed to help treat your substance use disorder
- Feelings of fear and shame may be overwhelming, so you start denying what’s going on with your support system and tell people you’re fine when you know you’re not
Lapse versus Relapse
A lapse occurs when you initially use a substance while in recovery. For example, you may be at a party and decide to have a glass of wine socially. The next day, you regret it and reach out to your support system to help get back on track. A full-blown relapse is when you continue to use or drink after your initial lapse.
Addiction swapping is when you switch one addiction for another, and it’s a dangerous pitfall to recovery. When you trade one addiction for another, even if it appears to be a healthy habit, you’re avoiding the underlying issues of addiction.
A major pitfall in recovery and a part of addiction swapping is when a person becomes addicted to another person. Also known as codependency, you may rely heavily on a loved one to function; in turn, the loved one depends on you to take care of their needs to feel whole.
Codependency is a complicated issue and requires professional intervention to recognize patterns and learn to love and focus on yourself. Olympus Recovery understands the concepts and challenges of addiction swapping and codependency. For more information on this topic, call Olympus at (866) 305-7134.
Top Causes of Relapse
In addition to the early warning signs of relapse, some universal causes may lead to a return to alcohol or drug use.
1. Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms, also known as PAWS, are one of the top causes of relapse. Your physiological withdrawal symptoms were most likely medically treated in detox, but the mental effects of withdrawing from alcohol and drugs can linger for weeks. These may include mood swings, problems sleeping, poor concentration, irritability, low energy and anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, stress is a primary reason for returning to alcohol or drugs. You may have been using substances to self-medicate or as a means to cope with stress. It’s important to remember that stress is subjective, and your stress tolerance level differs from others.
3. Toxic Relationships
Unfortunately, not everyone in your life may be as supportive as you hope in your recovery journey. Influential people, such as your spouse or children, may not like your recovery changes and try to sabotage your progress. If you cannot completely cut these people out of your life, ensure you have adequate positive support for balance.
4. Unexpected Life Events
There are the everyday minor stressors, and then there are the biggies that seem to come out of nowhere and hit you like a ton of bricks. Think of an unexpected death of a spouse, parent, child or friend, housing or job loss, or a worldwide pandemic.
Complacency can happen anytime during your recovery process, but it’s most risky during the middle to late recovery. Also known as “stinking thinking,” you may become overconfident and start rationalizing and minimizing your addiction issues.
The Importance of Having a Relapse Prevention Plan
Creating a relapse prevention plan with a certified drug and alcohol counselor is paramount to long-term recovery. A solid relapse prevention plan (RPP) involves identifying triggers and developing coping skills for each trigger and a support plan.
According to the National Library of Medicine, there are five rules for relapse prevention and recovery:
1. Be Prepared to Change Your Life
Simply not using substances is not considered recovery. Maybe you’ve heard the term “dry drunk,” which refers to not drinking alcohol but still engaging in the same behaviors and thought patterns. This is a big red flag and unrealistic for long-term recovery, and the risk of relapse is high.
2. Be Completely Honest
A successful relapse prevention plan requires complete transparency and raw honesty. Active addiction survives through deception and lying, both to others and yourself. A supportive recovery circle with trusted professionals you can count on for non-judgmental support fosters healing.
3. Ask For Help
A supportive community that understands what you’re going through is key to long-term sobriety. Self-help groups such as AA and NA and finding a sponsor who understands your relapse prevention plan is essential.
4. Practice Self Care
We’re taught that self-care is selfish. In reality, it’s anything but selfish and a vital element of a relapse prevention plan. When you’re taking care of your needs in a healthy way, you’re less likely to turn to alcohol or drugs for comfort.
5. Don’t Bend The Rules
Bending the rules and finding loopholes to “doing the work” is a slippery slope to relapse. Denial is a real and powerful force working against you, so having and adhering to strict rules in your relapse prevention plan equals a better chance for success.
Recovery and relapse can be a confusing and overwhelming journey, but there is hope on the horizon! Be sure to find a competent substance abuse treatment provider who will answer all your questions with compassion and transparency.
You’ll also want to find a provider with the proper accreditations and step-down levels of care. The best recovery programs offer a free alum program for additional support.
For more information on the warning signs of relapse and treatment options, please call Olympus Recovery at (866) 305-7134 to speak with an addiction specialist. They are more than happy to help.
You’ve got this, and you are worth it!