Addiction is a chronic illness that a person must manage for the rest of their life, like diabetes or heart disease. Recovery from an addiction is a lifelong process.
During recovery, most people experience slips and relapses, especially in the first year of treatment. Relapses are common as the person learns how to live a substance-free lifestyle. Fortunately, the longer a person remains sober or drug-free, the less likely they are to relapse. However, the possibility of relapsing will always be present.
Addicts that succeed in sobriety will identify triggers or risky situations that put their recovery at risk. But recognizing warning signs is hard when learning how to live drug-free, especially in the early going.
Fortunately, friends and family can help their loved one who is working toward a lasting, drug-free lifestyle by recognizing the warning signs of relapse. Identifying warning signs early can afford your loved one the time window to act quickly and reduce the risk of a complete relapse.
Is your loved one relapsing? The Rehab Helpline for Drugs and Alcohol at (877) 467-4825 can connect you with a rehabilitation expert to help discuss options for your loved one.
What is a Relapse and a Slip?
Recovery from substance addiction is a lifelong process that involves learning to live and respond to stressors and situations in new ways. Mistakes, like slips and relapses, may happen. Learning from these events is critical for their recovery.
A slip is small and restricted to a short period. The risk to the person’s safety is low, like taking one sip of an alcoholic drink then stopping themselves. If they recognize the slip and take action to learn from their mistake, they can get back on track without a more serious consequence.
Sometimes a slip can cause a relapse. A relapse is using or seeking the drug of choice after a period of abstinence. A relapse is longer in duration, more sustained, such as a two-day bender. Relapses present a higher risk to the addict’s safety than a slip, as they can return to the behaviors they had when engaged in their addiction.
7 Common Warning Signs of a Relapse
The earlier a person can recognize that they are at risk of relapsing, the more likely they are to get back on track or even avoid the relapse altogether. However, it can be hard for people to fully recognize when they are engaging in behaviors or having thoughts that put them at risk.
Before a slip or relapse occurs, there’s often a change in their behaviors, attitudes, and thoughts. Helping your loved one recognize warning signs can help them act before a problem arises. Here are seven common warning signs that your loved one is at risk of relapsing.
1. Change in their attitude or commitment toward their recovery
Recovery is a lifelong process that involves the person changing behaviors, friendships, routines, beliefs, and more. It’s challenging. If your loved one voices concern about maintaining a drug-free lifestyle, they may be at risk of a relapse.
You may notice them feeling less hopeful, being harder on themselves, or not feeling as committed to their recovery. In this situation, talk to them about your concern. Offer support and highlight the success they have had. They may need to increase their communication with their treatment support or attend more meetings. Letting them know you care and are willing to listen without judgment can help.
2. Increased stress or life stressors and denial of their impact
Dealing with multiple life stressors is hard for everyone. People who used to cope with stress by using drugs or alcohol may need additional support while learning new coping strategies.
If your loved one seems more stressed or is trying to deal with several stressors, they may be at increased risk of a relapse. Being supportive and listening to their concerns can help as they develop new coping skills.
If the stress is becoming unmanageable, they may need to seek additional help and support from their outpatient treatment or meetings, especially if they don’t recognize how the stress is impacting them. Denying that stress is starting to become difficult to manage, leaves them vulnerable to a relapse.
3. Being more defensive or secretive
If they seem to be hiding something, they may be at risk of relapsing. Talking to them about your concerns is hard, especially if this behavior occurred when they were using. If you’re unsure how to discuss this with your loved one, you can talk with a counselor or support group for help.
4. Missing treatment appointments
Meetings and outpatient appointments are a critical component of the recovery process, especially in the early years. If your loved one is missing treatment sessions, they are avoiding the support and professional help they need.
Look out for the excuses. Sometimes there can be hurdles like finding transport or convenient time slots for meetings. However, it may also be due to changes in their attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts about their recovery.
5. Going to places or interacting with people formerly associated with their addiction
A major trigger of relapse is going to places or interacting with people that are associated with their addiction. If they are talking with people that they once used drugs with or going to areas where they had access to drugs, this is a serious warning sign.
Another related warning sign is if they start romanticizing their drug or alcohol use and reliving the ‘fun’ times they had while using.
6. Declines in their self-care or mood
While everyone has down days, sustained changes in your loved one’s mood such as increased depression, anxiousness, or moodiness can be a concern. In that case, this can put them at risk for relapse due to changes in attitudes, self-confidence, or beliefs about the recovery process. They may also make statements indicating they are less hopeful about recovery working for them. Additionally, there may be a decline in their self-care, such as how they dress, eating properly, exercising, or hygiene.
7. Distancing themselves from beneficial social supports
Isolating themselves from people who are supportive and helpful to their recovery can signal that there is a problem. Beneficial social support is a critical element during recovery. The more they distance themselves from appropriate help, the greater their feelings of isolation, which can negatively impact their mood, thoughts, and attitudes. This change places them at risk of relapsing.
Understanding Warning Signs of a Relapse Can Help Your Loved One
Learning how to live a drug or alcohol-free lifestyle is a process that takes time to master. Your loved one must learn new responses and behaviors to situations to avoid slipping or relapsing. Recovery requires them to learn how to live differently, which takes time and may involve a slip or relapse. What is critical is that they learn from these moments so that they can continue to work towards a lasting, substance-free lifestyle.
Fortunately, you can help your loved one during this process. By understanding that slips and relapses are common, you can help them work through it and encourage them to get the appropriate level of help that they need. Knowing the warning signs can help them identify a potential problem before it becomes a full relapse.
If you’re concerned that a loved one is at risk of relapsing, the free Rehab Helpline for Drugs and Alcohol at (877) 467-4825 can connect you with a rehabilitation expert who can help provide information and the options your loved one needs.