Identifying Signs of Relapse

Relapse is never a good thing and many people relapse several times before attaining long-term freedom from addictive behavior. It’s important to remember that relapse is not a sign that treatment has failed. However, this understanding doesn’t make the experience less devastating for a recovering person and his friends and family.

The warning signs of relapse may be difficult for an addicted person to recognize, but they are often readily spotted by others.

If your friend or family member is in recovery, identifying early signs of relapse can help you support the person through difficult times, and may prevent a return to addictive behavior.

  • Although relapses sometimes occur suddenly, they are usually progressive as cravings gradually become too powerful to resist.
  • A person who is dangerously close to relapse may display excessive worry, anxiety, anger and irritability.
  • Addictive people may glamorize past use of drugs and alcohol. People who are nostalgic about their addiction tend to forget the negative consequences of the behavior and may lose sight of the positive life improvements of stopping.
  • Obsessive thinking is a dangerous sign, especially if the person can’t stop thinking about drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors.
  • Beware of relapse if your friend or family member seeks out old friends or spends too much time in places where drugs and alcohol are easily available. Although it isn’t easy, people in recovery should develop a support system of sober, supportive people.
  • Pay close attention if an addicted person becomes nonchalant about sobriety, or decides that she can handle light or moderate use. This is dangerous thinking that commonly leads to relapse.
  • Chronic illnesses and lowered immune system often accompany addiction. A return of physical symptoms may be a sign that a person has relapsed.
  • Watch for changes in routine, such as missing work, forgetting appointments, avoiding important responsibilities, coming home late, or skipping treatment or therapy sessions. Often, a person who is relapsing will make excuses and lie or justify the behavior.
  • A person on the verge of relapse may be discouraged, frustrated or depressed. He may express doubt and uncertainty about his future, or he may lose faith in his treatment plan.

If you think your loved one is in danger of relapse, or if you are concerned about your own recovery, don’t wait until it’s too late. Reach out for help, seek counseling, or attend a support meeting. In some cases a return to treatment is necessary.

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