For people in recovery, the word “relapse” may inspire more fear than any other. It’s natural for people who have suffered from addiction to be concerned about relapse because it could seem like a step backward, compromising their hard-earned progress. Besides, it’s human nature to fear what we don’t completely understand.
Take, for instance, the anxiety-ridden belief that a relapse could creep up at any moment. Contrary to what some might assume, relapse doesn’t happen out of the blue. It builds in stages, ultimately leading to a person picking up their substance of choice again. While people can and often do regain their footing after a relapse, this misstep could compromise long-term recovery for others. As a result, it’s important to be able to identify the red flags of relapse. If you observe any of the following signs in yourself or a loved one, a relapse may be on the horizon:
- Unnecessary risk-taking. Participating in reckless behaviors or making decisions on a whim could begin to impact your recovery even if your actions are not directly related to using drugs or alcohol. While healthy risk-taking can be valuable in recovery because it encourages you to break out of your comfort zone, getting into the habit of acting on impulse could be self-destructive – leading to you picking up your drink or drug of choice again.
- Ongoing negative thoughts and emotions. Pervasive feelings of sadness, frustration, self-pity, resentment, and isolation could impact your personal relationships as well as your recovery. In early recovery, many people feel like something has been taken from them, but over time and through treatment, they can learn how to cope with difficult emotions and realize all that sobriety has given them. If you notice yourself returning to a dark place, it may be time to seek help. Left unaddressed, these complex emotions can not only trigger a relapse but also lead to a cycle of anxiety and depression.
- Neglecting obligations. A lack of motivation and an inability to address your responsibilities could spell trouble. If you find yourself skipping AA meetings or falling out of your routine, talk through the source of your apathy with a mental health professional, a sponsor, or a loved one you trust. Deepening your connections with others can help when you feel you’ve lost your sense of purpose.
- Lying to yourself and others. When you are on the verge of a relapse, you may try to convince yourself that consuming a small amount of a substance won’t hurt. This thought pattern is a dangerous one for people in recovery. When a person struggles with addiction, using in moderation isn’t a viable option and can only lead to a downward spiral, causing your health as well as your interpersonal relationships to suffer. Alternately, you may consider making elaborate excuses to cover up certain behaviors around your loved ones. But in order to continue making strides in recovery, being honest and having sound judgment are crucial.
Next Steps: Preventing a Relapse
If you’ve recognized any of the above symptoms in yourself or a loved one, you may be wondering how to proceed next in order to avoid making a decision you may later regret. Many clinical experts in the addiction treatment field recommend using the acronym HALT – which stands for “hungry, angry, lonely, tired” – to recognize painful emotions and develop self-awareness going forward.
Once you better understand where these emotions are coming from, try to find a solution that works for you or you know has worked for you in the past. Continuing on the right path in your recovery could involve creating an at-home wellness practice, keeping in contact with a support system, going to fun sober events, or all of the above. Alternately, if you’re feeling disconnected from your surroundings or stuck in a routine, volunteer for a good cause or find a new hobby that reinvigorates you.
Recovery is a life-long journey. Setbacks can and do happen. If you have already experienced a relapse, don’t despair or feel like you are doomed for eternity. Instead, choose to see relapse for what it is: a temporary lapse in judgment. Turn this unfortunate circumstance into an opportunity to recommit to recovery.