by Laura Geftman, LCSW
Addiction is a chronic disease which means there’s alway a possibility of relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that individuals recovering from any kind of addiction often experiences at least on relapse (source). Maintaining sobriety can be an everyday struggle but knowing the warning signs of relapse can help to deter you from it.
While the desire to use again can be very strong, relapse can be deadly. After achieving any clean or sober time, your body isn’t use to having the same amount of drugs in your system. This make overdosing much more likely as you can’t return to what you’ve known. Awareness and treatment can help to lower your chances of relapse and overdose.
3 Stages of Addiction Relapse
Relapse doesn’t just happen on a whim. It’s a process. It can take a week or a month but not a second. Before learning the warning signs, let take a look at the stages of relapse that are involved:
Emotional relapse involves self-destructive thought processes. These self sabotaging ideas that set you in for a possible relapse. Sometimes an emotional relapse can look like withdrawal symptoms. Mood swings, irritation, and defensiveness can all be signs of an emotional relapse.
Mental relapse is actively thinking about using. It’s not just thinking about it- it’s fantasizing and glamorizing it. Thinking about the people, places and things you used when you were using and thinking about bring all of it back into your life.
Physical relapse is everything from going to get a drink, calling a dealer, finding an old stash, etc…It’s every action leading up to using the substance, and actually using it.
10 Warning Signs of Relapse
Okay here we go. Let’s dive into some of the ways warning signs may present in your life that could indicate you maybe heading towards relapse.
Change in attitude Subtle though it maybe, a change in your thoughts about your recovery program can indicate an upcoming relapse. Carefully consider any changes to your program and discuss this with your support team before making any changes.
Reactivation of denial Denial of your use was previously the issue. This is different. The recovery process can involve various thoughts and feelings that come up. You maybe inclined to deny or avoid dealing with them which could lead to relapse.
Elevated stress Your life has changes immensely since getting clean and/or sober. Truthfully that also come with some stress. Re-engaging with the world from this mew perspective takes some getting used to. Don’t let the stress drive you back to using. You can learn to manage the things that are causing you stress.
Withdrawal symptoms Some withdrawal symptoms can reoccur. Memory loss, sleeplessness, anxiety or depression may tempt you to use again.
Changes in behavior When honest evaluation of your behavior fails, you make once again seek out defensiveness or avoidance. Beware of these changes.
Social isolation This is a very common relapse sign. Making excuse not to be with others, skipping meetings, and even thinking you can do it all alone are telling you something isn’t right.
Lack of daily routine Sleeping in, skipping meals, not going to meetings, deciding not to exercise – changing the structure and schedule you’ve built in your treatment program consul mean you’re falling out of it.
Unhealthy decision making It’s no secret that sobriety come with new stressors. Learning to manage them without becoming overly annoyed or angry is key to making informed decisions. When you find it hard to think clearly to do so- warning sign.
Lack of control When your addiction starts talking to you and says you can handle using just a little bit, BIG WARNING SIGN. Remember you have surrendered your lack of control. It never comes back to you in recovery. Ever.
Limiting support You might very well feel anger, frustration, loneliness, etc…but know that if you shut yourself off from your support groups, therapists, medications, friends, and families- you’re heading down the road to relapse. As hard as it may feel, you need not to walk down this road.
Seeing a Mental Health Professional
If you become concerned relapse, it’s best to seek the support of a mental health professional- such as a social worker, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. When you see someone professionally trained in mental health care, they can help you understand the difficulties you’re experiencing.
Sure just the thought of seeking mental healthcare can create more cravings. You may think they will make you talk about your past. Or that you won’t connect with them to feel comfortable to talk about anything. Maybe you’re afraid to cry in front of anyone let alone a stranger. Worse- you think they’ll put you in a hospital, rehab or institution.
Please know I don’t bring this up to elicit fear but to say- those who work in the mental health field are trained to work with you at your own pace. You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. Ever. The idea is to create a safe space for you to feel comfortable to connect with someone who can help you understand your symptoms and learn to manage them. Therapist are legally bound to uphold privacy and confidentiality. That means they can only repeat what you’ve said to them if they are concerned about your safety or the safety of others. Anything else you tell a therapist, they cannot repeat to anyone else without your consent. You literally have to sign paperwork stating they can talk to others about what you’ve shared with them.
Keep in mind- Untreated substance abuse disorders can be harmful to your health and even fatal. If you think you or your loved one may have a substance use disorder or addiction, see a doctor or therapist to determine the best course of treatment.
When to seek emergency treatment
Here are the signs and symptoms would warrant a trip to the emergency room immediately:
- changes in consciousness
- trouble breathing
- seizures or convulsions
- signs of a possible heart attack, such as chest pain or pressure
- any other troublesome physical or psychological reaction to use of the drug
If anything listed is cause for concern, call 911 or go to your local emergency room immediately.
About Laura Geftman, LCSW
Laura Geftman, LCSW is the Founder of The Calm, Cool & Collected and a practicing therapist. Beyond all things cannabis and mental health, Laura is passionate about developing greater understanding for kindness and acceptance. In her free time, Laura can be found on her yoga mat, in a kayak or singing karaoke.