Often a person finds themselves enjoying a sober life, thinking nothing can stop them now. Then, something like a challenging life event happens, their mood plummets, or they simply become bored and do not focus on staying sober. Relapse warning signs may begin to start without the person even being aware of them. This can cause them to delve back into their addiction and move back to square one. Knowing the signs of an impending relapse can help someone avoid falling into one. Getting help to avoid them or getting treatment right after a relapse occurs can keep a person from struggling unnecessarily.
What Is Relapse?
The term relapse refers to a recurrence of symptoms related to a disease. In terms of a purely medical disease, it can refer to something like someone relapsing into a cancerous condition they had previously been in admission from. In terms of substance use disorders, the individual has become sober after abusing drugs or alcohol, only to begin using them again. A relapse can happen just weeks after a person quits using or leaves a treatment center or it can happen years down the line.
Just one instance of behavior does not mean a person has relapsed. For example, if someone who had remained abstinent from alcohol for a period of time had just one drink or a night of consuming several drinks and then did not drink alcohol again, that is not considered a relapse. It falls under the heading of a temporary and singular slip-up.
What makes it different is when the use of the substance (alcohol or drugs) becomes a habit again. The person goes from having control over their addiction and being sober to engaging in the use of the substance as a pattern again.
The warning signs of relapse occur in three stages, which we have outlined below.
The first type of relapse warning sign is emotional. The person often isn’t even thinking about using substances again or planning to do so. Instead, their emotions have begun to feel overwhelming and problematic, which often proved to be a trigger to use drugs and alcohol in the past. Emotional symptoms can include mood swings, feelings of depression, and anxiety.
Included under the umbrella of emotional signs are behavioral signs tied to troubling emotions. For example, someone might engage in any of the following:
- Poor eating habits
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Avoiding friends and family
- Not discussing their emotions with others, including loved ones and therapists
- Skipping support groups or sober meetings
- No longer using healthy coping skills they learned in treatment
When someone ignores the development of emotional relapse, they put themselves at risk of moving to the next stage, which is mental relapse. In this stage, the person begins to think more about using substances again. Common behaviors that occur during mental relapse include:
- Battling in their mind about whether or not it’s okay to use substances again
- Fantasizing about getting high or drunk
- Remembering past times of substance abuse as being all good and forgetting the bad times
- Telling themselves they can handle using again just once or a few times
- Glamourizing how much fun substances are
- Going over potential plans for getting drugs or alcohol “just in case”
The final stage is physical relapse, which is when the individual actually engages in using drugs or alcohol on a regular basis again. While it does not mean they cannot come back from it, it does put their emotional, mental, and physical health in jeopardy. The faster they come to terms with the fact that they have relapsed and get back into treatment, the more likely they are to avoid another relapse down the road.
Do Relapse Warning Signs Mean a Person Cannot Recover?
Experiencing relapse warning signs does not automatically mean a person cannot recover. In fact, when someone recognizes the signs, they often take swift action and avert a relapse. Even if they do relapse, there is no reason to believe they cannot get back on track. In fact, relapse proves to be quite common and happens to about 40 – 60% of those who are in recovery from a substance use disorder and is most common during the first year of sobriety. This points to the necessity of learning to recognize relapse warning signs because it can stop a person from entering into a cycle of relapsing more than once.
What Kind of Treatment Helps an Impending Relapse?
When a person recognizes they have begun to experience relapse warning signs, the sooner they get help, the less time they will spend suffering and jeopardizing their long-term recovery. One option that can turn a person around includes moving into a sober living home while they work on keeping themselves safe from relapse. A sober living home provides a safe space to reside with others who are also in recovery and working on their health and sobriety.
Many sober living homes are located in upscale neighborhoods, have popular amenities, and even have a pet-friendly policy. Some homes provide access to addiction recovery coaching, which lets a person take advantage of someone who can help them avoid relapse or recover from one that happened.
Getting Help When Relapse Warning Signs Happen
Have you noticed relapse warning signs happening and fear that your recovery may be in jeopardy? Maybe you have a loved one who seems on the brink of relapse and they need a push in the right direction. Creekside Recovery Residences understands that even someone in strong recovery can quickly become at risk of relapsing. When this happens, it’s important to get help right away to keep from sinking fully back into a substance use disorder.
If you would like to talk about how to avoid relapse for yourself or a friend, visit our admissions page now. Our friendly staff understands how to help you help yourself or someone you love.