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Early Warning Signs of Relapse and What to Do About Them

Recovery , Sobriety Alexa Iocco | June 8, 2022

Early Warning Signs of Relapse and What to do About Them Resurgence Behavioral Health

What is a Relapse?

When a person has an addiction, they have repeated pleasurable actions over and over to the point that the brain has become wired to perform this behavior automatically, becoming something the body begins to rely on and crave once the drug and alcohol use has stopped. If a person who is sober gives in to these cravings, this is known as a relapse.

Being in alcohol or drug recovery is not the same for everybody. It is loosely defined as a person having an improvement in their condition, including in their social relationships, physical health, and psychological well-being. Not everybody remains 100% abstinent from drugs and alcohol while in recovery. Depending on the person’s beliefs, they may stay completely sober, or they may define their own recovery as the healing of the underlying causes of addiction.

Relapse is an issue that between 40% and 60% of people will face within one month of completing an inpatient rehab program, and 85% of people relapse within one year, meaning around 15% of those suffering from substance use disorders will remain clean after rehab. These numbers differ depending on the drug you were using and your overall mental health, but it is important to remember that relapse is a fact in many people’s recoveries.

Addiction to drugs and alcohol is not an easy thing to beat, even with a strong relapse prevention and alumni program in place. Recovering addicts need to stick to healthy daily routines and consistently check in with themselves honestly and get help right away if changes in attitudes and thoughts, and other signs of relapse occur.  

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Triggers for Relapse

A ‘trigger’ for relapse is an event, thought, or feeling a person in recovery has that causes a ‘fight or flight response, feelings of despair, distress, and/or compulsions or cravings.

Triggers for relapse are different for every person in recovery, depending on their history, the underlying social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues that caused addiction, and where they are now in their recovery. Some of the most common relapse triggers are:

  • Memories, of being in a specific place where you used to drink or use drugs
  • Emotional distress
  • Conflict at home or at work
  • Celebrations, holidays, and party atmospheres
  • Being bored or lonely
  • Feeling misunderstood, judged, or attacked
  • Experiencing symptoms of untreated mental illness
  • Seeing something depicted on TV or in a movie, in a news story, or reading something in a book
  • Trying to relax after a difficult day
  • Feeling a loss of control over things in your life
  • Feeling unsafe

A continued treatment plan, especially for the first few months after inpatient and outpatient rehab, is an excellent way to manage the impulses caused by these triggers as they come. Having peer groups, counselors, and other support to lean on may make the difference in whether you relapse or not.

The Stages of Relapse

There are three types of relapse after completing a rehab program when you are supposed to have quit: a slip, a lapse, and a relapse. A slip is when you use the substance one time, for example spending one-night drinking. A lapse is when the substance abuse occurs several times, but has not completely fallen back into old habits. A drug detox center Costa Mesa is when the problematic substance abuse and related behaviors return, taking over your life again.

There are three phases to relapse and being able to recognize these phases early may make a difference in whether you return fully to addiction, or get help before it goes that far. The phases are:

  1. Emotional relapse – you may notice you feel depressed, have negative thought patterns, and begin to miss meetings or stop taking care of yourself as well as you once were. This usually happens when you begin to feel like you’ve ‘got this’ and don’t need help anymore.
  2. Mental relapse – you find you are thinking about the substance in this stage of relapse. You miss it, and begin telling yourself maybe you could use it a few times “safely” without becoming addicted again, and that it wasn’t so bad the first time around
  3. Physical relapse – this is active addiction, where you are actively participating in drug or alcohol abuse again, and falling into old habits and behaviors

Some people may also transfer their addictive behavior to another unhealthy habit, like gambling, as a maladaptive response that activates the brain due to dysregulation and chemical imbalances. Even with all the addiction treatment, relapse prevention plans, and help put into place, relapse can still happen because addiction is a chronic brain disease. It can be managed, but never truly goes away. With hard work and determination, as well as knowing when to ask for help, long-term recovery is possible for all substance abusers.

The Importance of Recognizing Signs of Relapse Early On

Recognizing the warning signs is part of a relapse plan. It allows you to step back for a moment, look at your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, and ask yourself whether you are still on the road to recovery or if you are slipping off. Knowing the warning signs will allow you to notice what is happening sooner rather than later, so you can get the help you need before you are back into a full-blown addiction. Common warning signs include:

  • Isolating yourself from loved ones
  • Not going to therapy or groups, or going but not participating
  • Falling into poor eating and sleeping habits
  • Changes in behavior that include lying to others
  • Not practicing self-care
  • Experiencing drug cravings
  • Romanticizing your past drug use, thinking about the people you used to use the drug with
  • Allowing yourself to break your own self-imposed rules
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Bargaining with yourself, planning your relapse and telling yourself it won’t be like last time, allowing yourself to use drugs “just once”

What To Do if You Experience Early Signs of Relapse

If you find yourself craving drugs or alcohol again, or notice you are thinking about the past through rose-colored glasses, choosing to believe that if you used drugs again it would be okay, then you may need to take action. Some of the things you could do include:

Talk to somebody – alumni groups, your sponsor, a peer support group, a family and loved ones, or a good friend are all community support you can access during difficult times

Continue following your relapse prevention plan – even when you feel like you are fine without it, keeping up the good habits you learned in your recovery programs will help you regain your sense of control and remember why you quit in the first place

Learn to identify your triggers – triggers are different for everybody, and knowing yours can help make your recovery much easier

Try a sober living home – living in a place where drugs and alcohol are readily available will make it much more likely that you will relapse. A sober living home is a buffer against relapse that demands accountability through random drug tests and strict rules

Take care of your health – exercise, sleep well, eat healthy food, and ensure you are not too stressed in your day-to-day life, so you feel good about yourself, stay busy, and manage cravings in a healthy way

Keep busy – many people are triggered by boredom or loneliness. Preventing relapse is done by keeping your days full, going to the gym, working, learning, attending church or a book club, volunteering, learning a new hobby, or anything else that piques your interest

Get professional help book an appointment with your therapist, talk to your medical doctor or psychiatrist, or return to a sober recovery center when you see a relapse warning sign in yourself or feel like you may lose control

Should I Go Back to Rehab?

Going back to rehab is not a “failure”. You did not do anything wrong, it is most likely true that you have not found the right combination of treatments that work for your unique conditions, preferences, and recovery needs. There may be an undiagnosed mental health condition like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or trauma that needs a dual diagnosis treatment, or you may not have addressed the root causes of your addiction yet.

Returning to rehab will help you regain clarity, get control over your physical and mental health, and gain the supportive sober community you need for long-term recovery. You will also have a better idea of what triggers you to relapse, which will help you figure out a better relapse prevention strategy for your unique needs.

At Resurgence Behavioral Health drug and alcohol treatment center, we can provide customized treatment programs that include:

  • Sober living home references places that will provide accountability and support when you need it most
  • Behavioral treatments including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy, individual therapy, and group therapy
  • Evidence-based treatments like EMDR and experiential therapy
  • Dual diagnosis treatments for co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders
  • Life skills and vocational training programs, along with physical health and nutritional counseling
  • All levels of care, from inpatient detox and rehab to outpatient programs including a partial hospitalization program and an intensive outpatient program
  • Medication-assisted drug and alcohol detox programs to ensure you do not suffer through withdrawal symptoms, with healthcare professionals available around the clock
  • Aftercare (extended care) programs that keep you connected with doctors, therapists, support groups, and alumni for as long as you need

Call our team today to verify insurance, learn more about the recovery process from substance use disorders, or find out more about avoiding relapse in long-term recovery. Our highly credentialed, caring, trauma-informed staff will treat you with the respect and individualized care you need, in a customized treatment plan formulated to your needs.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

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At Resurgence, we accept most PPO insurance. Verify your insurance now.