Sustaining sobriety is a life-long practice that takes patience and strength. Making the decision to get clean from drug and alcohol abuse will change your life forever in the best way possible. Keep in mind, however, that you will be presented with various challenges and triggers along the way, which is common for everyone in addiction recovery. This also means that the potential for relapse is always there. However, knowing the relapse signs and symptoms that people struggling in recovery often display are what can help you avoid falling back into old habits.
The Stages of Relapse
Individuals recovering from a substance use disorder often experience at least one relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Relapse can be especially dangerous for someone who has abstained from drug abuse for a long time, as their body is no longer tolerant of the substance. This means that taking the amount of the drug they were once accustomed to consuming during the height of their addiction could cause an overdose and even death.
Relapse is more of a process that occurs in stages rather than a singular event. The three stages are emotional, mental, and physical.
- Emotional: This is often the first stage of relapse, and it tends to occur even before someone in recovery considers using or drinking again. The individual usually starts to experience negative emotional responses, such as anger, moodiness, and anxiety. They may also begin to experience erratic eating and sleeping habits, and their desire for recovery often dissipates due to a lack of support. These are the initial warning signs of relapse in addiction recovery.
- Mental: This second stage of relapse is often a time of internal struggle for a person in recovery. They’re going through almost a tug-of-war between remaining sober and wanting to use or drink again. This is the stage of relapse in which the person may experience feelings and desires to use again that are difficult to stop. There may always be a part of the person that wants to use it again, which is why addiction is considered a chronic disease.
- Physical: This stage of relapse is the one in which the person consumes the substance, breaking their sobriety or period of abstinence. Using just once can cause cravings to continue to use, and the potential to enter back into a cycle of addiction is high. At this stage, getting a person into treatment or a stabilization program is crucial.
Relapse Warning Signs
Recognizing relapse signs and symptoms prior to the real thing is the best way to prevent it from occurring. Below is a list of common signs and symptoms of relapse to look out for in hopes of preventing drug or alcohol use from occurring.
- Isolation: Why people relapse varies, but some of the most common risk factors for relapse are isolation and loneliness. A person in addiction recovery may isolate themselves by spending less time with loved ones or missing 12-step meetings. They may also quit participating in the alumni program they were in, cancel therapy appointments, or skip social activities. If you notice that someone in recovery is not answering calls or messages, is declining invitations or is not participating in their usual social activities, check in on them.
- A decline in self-care: Our Pompano Beach drug rehab emphasizes the importance of self-care in recovery. If you’ve stopped doing the things you know will help you feel good enough to resist drugs and alcohol, pay attention. Self-care can include anything from exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep to attending all of your therapy sessions. Declining efforts in self-care can signal an incoming relapse. If you notice basic self-care slipping, like hygiene, eating habits, or physical upkeep, this could be a red flag of an impending relapse.
- Negative thoughts and emotions: Certain emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and fear, can lead to drug cravings. If you are experiencing negative thoughts, it may be time to take a deep breath and reorganize your thoughts. Depression-like symptoms can also be a drug trigger.
- Addiction triggers: There most likely will be people, places, and things that remind you of your previous drug or alcohol use. These things can be serious dangers to your sobriety, and we suggest that you stay away from potential triggers. They can include things such as places where you used to get high or drink and buddies you used to use drugs or drink with.
- Pressure from negative-influence people: Speaking of people you used to abuse drugs and alcohol with, it’s so important to surround yourself with positive people during recovery because the social pressures can get to you during fragile times. You also want to surround yourself with people who will encourage you to remain sober and keep you accountable even if you don’t want to hear what they have to say.
- Exposure to drugs or alcohol: If you attend an event or a party where there are drugs and alcohol present, you can feel extreme urges to use again. If you didn’t realize that there were going to be drugs or alcohol at a social gathering or event you attend, it’s important to remove yourself from the situation or call a supportive friend to talk you through it.
- Developing a cross-addiction: Cross-addiction occurs when you replace one addiction with another. For instance, if you were addicted to heroin, you might start abusing alcohol or marijuana because you’ve convinced yourself that they aren’t “as bad.” Maybe you start coping with life through another destructive or addictive behavior, such as compulsive gambling or internet use. Cross-addiction is another sign of relapse to look out for. It can indicate that the individual is reaching a breaking point, and it’s only a matter of time before these additional things aren’t enough.
- Justifying or making a plan to relapse: People who are teetering between relapse and staying clean may tell themselves things like, “I can handle this. It’ll just be one time, and then I’ll never do it again.” They’re basically mapping out how they’re going to relapse. At this point, a change is possible with the help of a relapse prevention program.
After Relapse: What Now?
Relapsing doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means that something in your routine has to change to better accommodate your sobriety. After relapse happens, our Pompano Beach treatment center encourages you to seek out professional support to ensure you hop back on the abstinence train. Our facility not only offers different drug and alcohol treatment programs, but we also have a stabilization program that helps individuals who have relapsed realign with their previous goals of sobriety.
If you have yet to begin your recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, it’s never too late. Our Broward County substance abuse programs include treatment for both prescription and illicit substance abuse that’s backed up by evidenced-based therapy to support physical and psychological recovery.