Relapse is common. In fact, 91% of recovering heroin addicts relapse at some point in their lives and 59% of those relapses are within the first week. If you make it past the first week, you are already more likely to avoid relapse for a longer period. Looking out for the warning signs of relapse can help too.

As much as our personal stories may differ, and as much as our addiction treatment may differ, most people share all the same signs of relapse. That makes it easier for us to recognize warning signs and avoid relapse altogether.

Relapse Warning Signs

  1. The buildup of negative emotions (stress, anger, fear, frustration, guilt, anxiety, depression, loneliness)
  2. Reminders of past drug experiences (places, friends, time of year).
  3. Exposure to drug use.
  4. The build-up of positive emotions (having fun and wanting to keep having more fun).
  5. Using other substances that you weren’t addicted to before.

Relapse can and should be avoided and warning signs of relapse are your chance to do just that. It may begin with seeing a commercial or drug use in a Movie, then it moves onto remembering drug use and then eventually to romanticizing past drug use.

Relapse signs may build up over time. It’s important to reflect on how you got to this point. Once you are fully romanticizing past drug use, you re high risk for relapse. Seek help.

Both positive and negative emotions can trigger a relapse. Just as many people relapse when they are having fun than those who are miserable.

Common situations leading to relapse

As a substance abuse counselor with 5 years of experience working with addicts, there are several common situations I see which lead to relapse.  On the positive side, it is easy to avoid these situations and the increased risk of relapse they bring.  Many times, people in early recovery will set themselves up for failure, whether that is accidental, an inner held belief that they are not “worth it” or because they are not intrinsically motivated is a topic for another post.  There is one thing I can say for sure; these common situations will increase the chance of relapse:

  • Getting involved in a romantic relationship in early recovery.
  • Coming into large sums of unexpected money
  • Leaving rehab early against medical advice
  • Hanging out with old friends who you used to get high with

Often the addict in early recovery is correct in saying that they do not want to get high again.  They may really believe that, and perhaps it is true.  However, they will engage in a series of decisions and actions from which relapse is a likely outcome.

Steps / Timeline for Relapse

Relapse is a very common part of the drug and alcohol addiction process. It is important to fully know and understand these 11 signs, symptoms and steps of the Relapse process:

Step 1: Change in Attitude
Step 2: Elevated Stress
Step 3: Reactivation of Denial
Step 4: Recurrence of Post-acute Withdrawal Symptoms
Step 5: Behavior Change
Step 6: Social Breakdown
Step 7: Loss of Structure
Step 8: Loss of Judgment
Step 9: Loss of Control
Step 10: Loss of Options
Step 11: Relapse

Pay attention to yourself and if you are experiencing any of these signs then speak to your sponsor or a loved one right away. Remember to continue to talk about your feelings and urges all the time and stay active in your recovery.

Relapse Symptoms

  1. Dishonesty
  2. Overconfidence
  3. Self-pity
  4. Yearning to meet up with friends form addiction days.
  5. Sudden change in regular daily activity (appetite, sleep, hygiene, skipping appointments)
  6. Becoming restless, irritable, and discontent.

Warning signs of relapse all have one thing in common: dishonesty. Dishonesty is one of the most devastating symptoms of relapse. Suddenly you are missing important appointment, or school or work. You aren’t answering your phone, you miss lunch dates, etc.

Keeping a strict schedule is the best way to avoid relapse.

Preventing Relapse

  1. Seek a support group immediately or speak to someone you can trust.
  2. Recognize the poisonous behavior you are seeking.
  3. Avoid friendship from addicted past.
  4. Avoid all substances.
  5. Avoid all triggers.

When you realize that you are heading for relapse, you should take drastic and immediate action. Avoid all triggers, seek help and be honest and above all, avoid any substances. While in Addiction Recovery you will be faced with challenges that will test you so that you are better prepared to face problems outside of recovery and not relapse. During this process, you will also learn a lot about yourself and learn your strengths and weaknesses.

One of the best things that you and your addiction counselor can do is to create a Relapse Prevention Plan. Remember that you will be faced with cravings, urges, and stressors along the road to recovery. Having an effective relapse prevention plan will help you to overcome these obstacles without using alcohol or drugs.

Although you will continue to be faced with daily life stressors, while in addiction recovery you will learn effective relapse prevention techniques and daily coping skills. As part of your treatment plan, you will be required to attend meetings, attend group counseling sessions, and work on yourself daily.
Part of the addiction recovery process is being prepared to face urges and cravings head-on and come out even stronger than before.

To learn more about the importance of having a relapse prevention plan, call our addiction hotline at 877-957-5113 for more information. Take the first step to living a sober, happy, and healthy life today by calling us right now!

If you are still unsure if you are in danger of relapse, use this worksheet to identify your danger level: Addiction Relapse Warning Signs Worksheet (PDF).

Remember that you must always be aware of your emotional and physical health and always put yourself and your recovery first. Always use positive coping skills when dealing with life stressors and learn to handle urges and cravings in an effective and healthy way. Learn yourself, learn what works for you and your sobriety, and practice those tools every day. Remember that the road to recovery is a daily struggle but with the appropriate help and coping skills, you will become one step closer to a lifetime of sobriety.

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