Recognizing the Signs of Relapse

Recognizing the Signs of Relapse

Studies show that more than 85% of recovering addicts relapse and return to actively abusing drugs and/or alcohol, within the first year following treatment. Addiction has recently been acknowledged as “disease of the brain.” Whether you have been sober 3 years or 30 days, most would agree addiction is propelled by negative thinking. The common connection between all addicts is the fundamental inability to deal with emotions. Many addicts turn to drugs/alcohol in order to escape reality. Once an individual escapes the grips of addiction, for a brief moment, the addict experiences a relief unlike any other. The misconception, or pink cloud, is that the individual is cured of their ailments. One of the most challenging phases in recovery is returning to reality, dealing with the pressures of everyday life. The disease of addiction is fatally progressive in nature. If an individual is suffering from a seemingly hopeless state of mind, it would be ignorant to assume the embedded thought process would escape overnight. In fact, many find triggers and temptations patiently lurking around the corner. Many assume relapse occurs, seemingly unprovoked, without warning. Relapse, much like addiction, is a gradual process. Recognizing the early signs of relapse can help the individual gain awareness and make the necessary changes before backsliding into their substance abuse. These are 10 of the most common signs of relapse.

Walking Away From Working a Program

Many addicts leave treatment enthusiastic about pursuing an individualized recovery plan. You may find yourself specifically excited to attend regular 12-step meetings, working with your sponsor, picking up a commitment, and maybe even attending an intensive outpatient program. As the responsibilities and stressors of life show up, working a program can feel like a chore. As a result, you may start slacking on working your program. Skipping out on meetings, withdrawing from fellowship, absent from therapy, and not talking with your sponsor are early signs of unhealthy behaviors. If you feel like you are “cured” you may be on the verge of relapse.


The slightest shift of perception can lead an individual back to romanticizing their addiction. Remembering the good times and forgetting the consequences, that followed, can be an early sign of relapse. Addiction is centered around the psychological disconnects of the individual. It is most important to remember that thinking over the “fun times” and forgetting the pain can be detrimental. The delusion of most addicts is that, with long-term sobriety, cravings and unhealthy thinking will go away. The phenomenon of craving is a symptom of addiction and can be reignited, through obsessing over the past.

Backpedaling into Old Behaviors

There is a reason addicts function better when operating in a structured environment. “Idle minds are the devil’s playground.” When you first get sober, you were most likely encouraged to maintain balance and practice discipline. Addicts can create and maintain a solid foundation, for recovery, by learning how to replace unhealthy behaviors with new coping skills and activities. It’s never a good sign if you begin skipping meals, sleep, and negating self-care practices. You may find yourself headed for relapse if you begin indulging in selfishness, isolating, being defensive, lying, cheating, stealing, and overreacting emotionally if you do not address these behaviors.

Keeping Old Company

When you transition into recovery, making new friends can be hard. You may find yourself wanting to reconnect with old associates and this can sometimes be complicated. You may find many of your friends are happy to see your successes and you may want to catch up with them. These encounters can trigger old memories and temptations. It’s never a great idea to “return to the scene of the crime.” Fellowship amongst other sober individuals is a sure way to ensure accountability, support, and help in maintaining long-term sobriety.

Indulging in Compulsion

Another common sign of relapse is indulging in compulsive behaviors. Addicts may unconsciously transfer their addiction to another person, place, or thing. In order to deal with the everyday stressors of life and recovery, you may find yourself gambling, overspending, overworking, engaging in promiscuity, and even seeking out chaos through unhealthy relationships. These activities can trigger the same part of the brain activated during substance abuse. It is not uncommon for recovering addicts to engage in these manipulative behaviors. Awareness and moderation can combat the potentials for relapse.

Unrealistic Expectations of Perfectionism

“Progress not perfection.” Perfectionism is a fertile ground upon which addiction, conflict, stress, anxiety, and failure are readily cultivated. Perfectionism is an unrealistic demand for any imperfect human. We create unrealistic expectations, but only to our own demise. “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” When an individual continues to seek perfectionism, they are setting themselves up for conflict with others. Self-sabotaging at its finest, the addict must let go of the idea that we can achieve anything like perfection. Shifting the focus to progress rather than perfection will make room for error, correction, and ultimately growth in sobriety.

Recovery allows individuals to rebuild and recreate their lives. It’s no secret that obstacles and temptations may arise, but there are many resources available to aid in relapse prevention. Often times recovering addicts find themselves indulging in old hobbies they participated in before picking up a mood/mind altering substance. It is important for the addict to stay true to who they are. If your job isn’t the most rewarding, indulge in activities that make you feel fulfilled. Find hobbies that interest you and incorporate those things into your weekly routine. As you participate in activities you enjoy the brain releases rewarding chemicals, which is a natural and healthy way to reach the desired effect addicts spend their days seeking.

Stay connected to your sober support and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you are struggling. Helping others has been proven to cultivate instant gratification and overall improve mental health. Find your passion and live there, for nothing is more fulfilling than successfully protecting the sobriety you’ve worked so hard to achieve.