Around 85% of addicts will relapse in the year following treatment.
Addiction is a chronic disease, and relapse is a common occurrence for addicts. It is part of the larger journey to lasting sobriety.
Because it is so common it's important to be able to recognize relapse warning signs in your loved one, to be able to support them fully.
8 Relapse Warning Signs to Look out for in Your Loved One
These are signs to watch out for in your loved one. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but should be viewed as a guide.
1. Reconnecting with People Your Loved One Used With
One of the ways that addiction is perpetuated and normalized is when an addict surrounds themselves with people who are also struggling. These relationships are central to an addict before recovery and are normally quite intense.
However, these relationships that an addict relied on so heavily before recovery can compromise their sobriety. When you're used to doing a certain activity when you see a particular friend it's really difficult to break that habit.
Additionally, when one addict is in the process of relapsing it can trigger another addict's relapse unintentionally. It is best to foster closer familial and friend relationships with people who are sober or are not addicts, particularly when someone is at the beginning of recovery.
2. Believing That Using a Little is Fine
People who suffer from addiction have a different brain chemistry than people who don't. They react differently to certain substances, which is what caused the addiction to begin with.
It is common to hear an addict say "well I can just have one" and truly believe that they are able to use minimally without falling into addiction again. This is not the case, and it is a dangerous attitude. This would be the same as a diabetic ingesting sugar without properly adjusting their insulin, and it can have long-term consequences.
It's very important that the recovering addict understands that it is not about their willpower. It is not their fault that they became addicted and cannot handle that substance in any amount. Addiction is a lifelong disease.
3. Hiding or Becoming Defensive
Relapse is not an instant decision, it is a process that can develop slowly. This means that often the addict is aware that the process is beginning and may feel that relapse is imminent.
This feeling that relapse is unavoidable and the amount of work an addict has put into their recovery can cause embarrassment and shame in the recovering addict. These complex feelings can cause the person to become defensive.
When an addict is relapsing this causes them to return to their secretive habits, much like how they were before recovery. They may say that everything is ok, but won't let come over to their house the way they used to.
4. Intense Mood Swings
The main goal of a treatment center for addiction is to safely detox an addict and manage their withdrawal in a medically safe environment. When an addict goes to an inpatient center, in particular, their friends and families don't always see the physical and emotional process of withdrawal.
Intense mood swings are a symptom of withdrawal for many substances and can be a major warning sign for a recovering addict. It could signal that a person is secretly using again and they are in a cycle of using and withdrawing.
Even if someone is not using again, stress and depression can be triggers for relapse especially if these conditions are not being well managed. Mood swings shouldn't be lightly blown with a loved one in recovery.
5. Quitting Recovery Activities
No man is an island, and no one can maintain long-term sobriety without a strong support network. The purpose of Anonymous meetings and 12 Step programs are to connect a recovering addict with a stable support network that they can rely on.
A major red flag is when a recovering addict begins withdrawing from these activities. This could take the form of not attending regular meetings, not meeting with a sponsor or finding a sponsor, and not engage in active self-reflection.
While there is no one right way to get sober, suddenly withdrawing from sobriety promoting activities with no replacement activity can signal a relapse.
6. Talking Fondly About Life Before Recovery
Most people who are a part of an addict's family or support system before they enter recovery do not miss the addicted form of their loved one. Addiction is a destructive disease to more than just the person affected.
The recovering addict may not share this opinion immediately upon getting sober. Their addiction was a really big part of their lives. When a recovering addict is at risk for a relapse they may start romanticizing their addiction.
When an addict begins talking about their addiction in this way gently but firmly remind them of the negative outcomes of their addiction. This relapse behavior can be an early sign that something is wrong.
7. Changes in Daily Routine, Sleep, or Appetite
Establishing and maintaining a healthy daily routine is necessary for avoiding cravings and taking care of yourself as a recovering addict.
This is why a deviation in a recovering addict's schedule is a big deal. Missing work, not sleeping, and not eating are some changes that can signal more advanced relapse symptoms.
When you're supporting a recovering addict this is also why it's so important to keep appointments and dates with the addict as best as you can. Structure and routine are hard to establish for many people, but establishing a routine is vital in long-term sobriety.
8. Having Unrealistic Goals or Ideas About Recovery
Lastly, recovering addicts should not expect their recovery process to be short and easy. Recovering addicts also should not expect rehab or recovery to fix every problem in their lives.
Daily stresses are not only still there after going to a treatment center, but the recovering addict must deal with these stresses without their go-to coping mechanism of using.
Being optimistic and being unrealistic are two different things. Try to foster your loved one's optimism without engaging in false promises about recovery.
If you suspect a loved one is exhibiting relapse warning signs, help is available.
For more information on supporting a loved one's sobriety please visit our recovery blog.