What Is a Drug Relapse?
A drug relapse is returning to a lifestyle of actively abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Research shows that relapse rates for substance abuse are between 40 and 60 percent.4 Someone in recovery may also have a single instance of drug use or alcohol use, which is commonly referred to as a “lapse”. Addiction is a chronic disease, so both lapses and relapses are common, but they do not mean a person has failed and is no longer in recovery. Instead, an addiction relapse should be regarded as an opportunity to re-evaluate the person’s responses to triggers and risk factors and improve their relapse prevention plan.
Top 6 Signs of Relapse
The following six circumstances may be warning signs that you need some additional support in your recovery.
Warning Sign of Relapse #1: You frequently feel lonely, depressed, bored, and unsatisfied.
Strong negative emotions such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, and boredom are highly associated with relapse.1 As you learn to live a new life of sobriety, it’s very important to stay busy, connect with like-minded peers, and make time for the things you enjoy. The adjustment may be difficult and it will most likely take time, but a sober living program can help you make the transition in a safe, supportive environment with staff members that can assist as needed.
Warning Sign of Relapse #2: You’re not going to your recovery meetings. (Or you’re going but not sharing.)
Although you may not be thinking about using drugs or alcohol again, isolating yourself from your peers in recovery is a strong predictor of relapse. Avoiding your recovery meetings, or attending them but refusing to share, is a clear sign of emotional relapse, which often leads to physical relapse.2 Being fully committed to your treatment plan and being actively engaged in your recovery group (even when you don’t feel like it) is one of the best ways to safeguard your sobriety.
Warning Sign of Relapse #3: Your eating, exercising and sleeping habits have deteriorated.
A major part of recovery is maintaining self-care practices, such as eating healthy meals, getting adequate sleep every night, and exercising regularly. If you find that these aspects of your life have fallen very low on your priority list, there may be a deeper issue at hand that needs to be addressed.
Warning Sign of Relapse #4: You have cravings for drugs or alcohol and start bargaining with yourself.
It’s normal to experience drug and alcohol cravings in the early and even later stages of sobriety, but if you are bargaining with yourself, scheming about ways you can control your drug or alcohol use, or planning a time and place when you can “safely” use, you may have already relapsed mentally.2 If you find yourself thinking about using drugs or alcohol again, even intending to control the use, you must confide in your sponsor, a sober peer, or your counselor so someone can help you work through those feelings. Chances are, they’ve had the same type of thoughts at some point in their recovery too. Although cravings are a normal experience in recovery, they can also be a strong predictor of relapse.3 Instead of ignoring them, confront them quickly, and be honest with your peers and sponsor about it.
Warning Sign of Relapse #5: You are lying to your counselor or therapist.
If you are not being honest with your counselor, peers, or therapist about your emotional and psychological status, this is cause for concern. There’s no reason to feel ashamed of your thoughts or feelings. You are not a failure just because you’ve wanted to use drugs or alcohol, you’re burnt out on your recovery, or you feel depressed and anxious. The more honest you are with your treatment team and your peers, the better they will be able to support you in your sobriety.
Warning Sign of Relapse #6: You convince yourself that it’s okay to just have one drink.
Although you may convince yourself that you can control your use and just have one drink or one dose of drugs, that is a very dangerous state to be in. A single drink can easily turn into two, three or six, and all of a sudden, you may realize you no longer have control. On the other hand, just because you’ve had one lapse, doesn’t mean you have completely ruined your sobriety. That single lapse doesn’t have to spiral out of control and become a full-blown relapse. You can still come clean with your support group and get the additional support you need to continue with your recovery journey before things get worse.
Addiction Relapse Warning Signs for Loved Ones
It’s not always easy to tell when a loved one is struggling in their recovery because you may not know about things they’re hiding or how they’re faring emotionally. If you think a close friend or family member is on the verge of a relapse, here are some common warning signs of relapse to look for.
He/she is isolating physically and emotionally.
He/she avoids talking about problems in life and/or recovery.
He/she works too much or too little.
He/she overeats or eats too little.
He/she doesn’t exercise at all or obsesses over exercising.
He/she blames friends or family members for past problems.
He/she makes unrealistic plans.
He/she doesn’t have any hobbies.
He/she is often irritable or angry.
He/she has a chaotic daily schedule (or lack thereof).
He/she lives with friends or family members who abuse drugs and/or alcohol.
He/she sleeps excessively or rarely at all.
He/she rejects help from others or expects other people to provide for basic needs.
He/she skips recovery meetings and gets angry or irritated when you bring it up.
He/she hasn’t made any friends in recovery.
He/she hasn’t made any attempts to rebuild his/her life after rehab.
Common Causes of Relapse
If you are in addiction recovery, it’s important to know the causes of relapse so you can actively work to fight those triggers. A high-quality drug and alcohol rehab programme should focus on relapse prevention and provide information and coping strategies to deal with these common triggers throughout your rehab programme.
In a subsequent transitional living program, you’ll have time to practice implementing these coping strategies in a safe and sober environment, but you may not always succeed in avoiding relapse. Some common causes of relapse are below:
H.A.L.T. – The acronym H.A.L.T. stands for hunger, anger, loneliness, and tired.4 These four states of being are not uncommon, especially during addiction recovery. If not dealt with appropriately, these physical and emotional states can serve as triggers that lead a person back into substance abuse.
Lack of commitment – If you are not serious about your recovery and neglect your 12-step meetings, counseling, or are otherwise unengaged with a recovery program, you are much more likely to relapse.
Lack of support – A solid support network is absolutely essential to long-term recovery. If you don’t have a group of sober peers to keep you accountable, provide insight and support in difficult times, and to spend leisure time with, the likelihood of experiencing a lapse is higher.
Misplaced motivation – If you are only getting sober to make your parents, your spouse, or a friend happy, chances are, you’re not fully committed to your recovery. To achieve lifelong sobriety, you must be fully dedicated to your sobriety and maintain a personal commitment to it.
Inferior planning – Not having a relapse prevention plan can leave you in hot water if or when you do slip up. Planning for instances like this will make it much easier to bounce back and get back on track with your sobriety quickly.
Lack of self-care – If you get comfortable in your sobriety, you may begin to stop doing the things that initially contributed to your recovery. You may also begin to take on more responsibilities and neglect your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits.
Stress – Individuals in addiction recovery are more sensitive to stress and may relapse as a result. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as yoga or running, can help reduce the likelihood of relapse.
Being overly confident – After months or years of sobriety, it might be easy to slip into a mindset of believing you don’t need support group meetings, counseling, or aftercare groups anymore. Neglecting your recovery is never okay, even when you feel like you have everything under control.
Getting Back on Track After a Relapse
If you do happen to relapse while you are enroled in a sober living programme or while living at home after completing your rehab program, there are steps you can take to get back on track.
1. Communicate with your sponsor or recovery coach right away.
The best thing you can do after a relapse is to immediately take action. Call or meet with your sponsor, recovery coach, or a sober peer and have an open and honest conversation about what happened. A huge part of addiction recovery is maintaining complete honesty, so you must share your relapse with a trusted individual.
2. Consider going back to rehab.
If your lapse was an isolated incident, you may not need to re-enroll in drug rehab. However, if you have slipped back into a lifestyle of abusing drugs and/or alcohol regularly again, drug rehab may be the best way to get back on track. If you’ve relapsed several times before, you may also want to consider enroling in a drug and alcohol rehab programme that is specifically geared towards individuals who struggle with chronic relapse.
3. Consider enrolling in a sober living program.
If you are not already enroled, a transitional housing programme can provide support, life skills, and assistance to stay sober. Sober living homes provide safe, sober living environments for men and women in recovery and the structure and accountability will help you maintain your sobriety, even after a lapse or relapse.
4. Talk to your recovery coach about what went wrong and make a plan.
If you’ve recently relapsed, you’ll need to make some major life changes to ensure that you can remain sober and prioritize your recovery. Your sponsor, recovery coach, or house manager at your sober living community can work with you to create a plan that will help you avoid substance use and stay sober for good.
5. Continue attending your 12-step support groups.
Although you may feel ashamed, embarrassed, or depressed about your recent lapse or relapse, it’s very important that you continue attending your support group meetings. This should be a place where you can be open about your struggles and receive support and wisdom from others who have been where you are.