Whether you completed addiction treatment last week or a few years ago, there’s always a possibility of relapse. In general, the risk decreases the longer you’ve been sober, but the threat is ever present. This is why it’s so important to be proactive in recovery, even after “official” treatment has ended.
It’s tempting to become complacent, but complacency is the enemy of growth. After completing drug rehab, you will feel refreshed and reinvigorated with strength and hope.
However, you’ll also feel fragile as you return to life in the “real world.” The new skills and coping mechanisms you learned in rehab need to take root. It will take time for these new skills and healthy habits to become second nature. This is why the first few weeks after addiction treatment are so critical to lasting sobriety.
What Causes Relapse?
In general, there are significant behavior changes that occur before relapse. By understanding these triggers and knowing to look out for these warning signs, you can take the actions necessary to prevent relapse.
So what leads to relapse? Multiple factors can increase the likelihood of relapse. These precursors and triggers might include:
- “Reminder cues” such as sights, sounds, smells, thoughts or dreams that are linked to previous substance use and abuse
- Sudden increase in stress or mood swings
- Celebrations, holidays and even positive mood states
- Reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances who are still using drugs and alcohol
- Environmental (for example, driving by a liquor store on the way home from work)
In many cases, these triggers create an overwhelming motivation to seek a drug. Judgment is impaired and poor decisions might be made, even if they know the disastrous negative consequences.
5 Warning Signs of Imminent Relapse
The risk of relapse can occur at any time. The reality is that many people don’t see it coming until it’s too late. By keeping an eye out for these warning signs, you will be extra diligent to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You will know to find the extra help and support you need to remain sober.
The warning signs of relapse include:
- You Stop Following Your Recovery Plan. The most common and most glaring warning sign is when a recovering addict stops doing what they need to do to stay abstinent. If you or someone you love suddenly stops attending 12-step meetings, relapse might be right around the corner. These meetings work. There’s a reason 12-step meetings are an integral component of any recovery program. Attending meetings allows you to be continually reminded of who you are and what is at stake. Even after completing an in-house rehabilitation program, attending meetings is a crucial component of a healthy, meaningful and lasting recovery.
- Reconnecting with the Past. Who doesn’t get nostalgic? We all have memories and reminisce about the “good times.” However, for people in recovery, this can be dangerous territory. Surrounding yourself with old people, places and things can lead you to romanticize the days when you were abusing substances. It’s easy to romanticize the past and conveniently forget about the misery that drugs and alcohol caused. If you find yourself smiling about the “good ole days,” consider it a red flag.
- Thinking Just One Pill or Drink Won’t Hurt. The next step after romanticizing the past is to get into the “just one” mentality. Do you find yourself thinking, “Just one drink won’t hurt”? This is one of the clearest signs that relapse might occur. People in recovery know the danger and consequences of using drugs again – even just once. If you begin to try to convince yourself that drugs and alcohol aren’t that bad or that you can handle it this time around, it’s important to seek help and support immediately.
- Isolation and Withdrawal. It’s normal to feel the “blues” or to need time to yourself. However, it’s dangerous to avoid being social and isolate yourself from others. Isolation can take many forms: you might not return texts, hang out with your friends, communicate with your family, attend 12-step meetings or just always stay at home. If you are isolating yourself and withdrawing from your friends and support group, it’s important to be aware of these tendencies. Isolation removes the positive elements of your life that keep you anchored and balanced in recovery.
- You Stop Prioritizing Self-Care. Self-care is a huge component of your sobriety. It’s important to take care of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs. If any of these pillars is damaged, it can cripple resolve and healthy decision-making. Self-care helps lower stress levels, self doubt and keeps you surrounded by people who love and care about you. Self-care also keeps you grounded in knowing that substance use does anything but care for you.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these warning signs, it’s important to seek help and support.
The sooner you catch yourself slipping into old and unhealthy behaviors, the better chance you have of not slipping.
Do any of these warning signs ring true with you? There’s no better time than the present to make a change in your life. Get in touch with a recovery coach. Call your sponsor. Contact a mentor. Do the next right thing.
Take action today.