Just like people in general, no two addictions are exactly alike. By the same token, just as addiction has been statistically trackable, reliably measured and moving upward since science first defined “addiction” itself, so too are the warning signs of relapse back into addiction. In short, though the first signs of addiction don’t necessarily send up any red flags, these signs of potential relapse should. 

If you are looking to prevent the relapse of a friend or loved one—or even yourself—you may not know or understand some of the common danger signs. Fortunately, researchers have set about to track three milestones along the relapse timeline. Covering the emotional, mental and physical realms of addiction, Stephen Melemsis’ 2015 paper (published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine) outlines the iterative nature of relapse after recovery:

“The key to relapse prevention is to understand that relapse happens gradually. It begins weeks and sometimes months before an individual picks up a drink or drug. The goal of treatment is to help individuals recognize the early warning signs of relapse and to develop coping skills to prevent relapse early in the process when the chances of success are greatest. This has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of relapse.”1


Arm yourself with knowledge


Every good battle plan begins with thoroughly knowing your enemy, in this case, the enemy is relapse. But what are the factors that play into turning a craving away from a full-blown relapse and toward a foundation for success? If you are looking to help another person or yourself from the trap of relapse, consider Melemsis’ foundations for solid recovery, and warning signs of potential relapse.


Emotional Relapse


In non-academic terms, the emotional relapse occurs when the person in recovery isn’t actively using. In reality, emotional relapse refers to a lack of vigilance in the good habits we create while being rehabilitated. Whether that means not keeping in contact with counselors or sponsors, withdrawing from healthy activities, or simply not addressing the root causes of addiction, a complete relapse can first happen in the mind.

As Melemsis writes, the following are possible harbingers of relapse:

“These are some of the signs of emotional relapse [1]: 1) bottling up emotions; 2) isolating; 3) not going to meetings; 4) going to meetings but not sharing; 5) focusing on others (focusing on other people’s problems or focusing on how other people affect them); and 6) poor eating and sleeping habits. The common denominator of emotional relapse is poor self-care, in which self-care is broadly defined to include emotional, psychological, and physical care.”

Armed with this knowledge, one can realize that engagement with healthy activities, expression through creative endeavors, eating and getting regular exercise and truly participating in one’s own recovery build a proper foundation for future sobriety.


Mental Relapse


Once the threshold of emotional relapse has been breached, those in recovery can very quickly run into a mental relapse, which includes the actual planning of the relapse, according to Melemsis: 

“1) [C]raving for drugs or alcohol; 2) thinking about people, places, and things associated with past use; 3) minimizing consequences of past use or glamorizing past use; 4) bargaining; 5) lying; 6) thinking of schemes to better control using; 7) looking for relapse opportunities; and 8) planning a relapse.”

Whether you are a recovering addict or a loved one, this is a critical stage. Now, the actual idealization of the relapse is being planned. Similar to an Army general learning of a breach in the enemy’s front line, this is an opportunity to take more immediate action. Suggest or engage in sober community activities, like AA, NA or 12-Step meetings; reintroduction to enjoyed pastimes dating prior to the addiction; and calling out relapse behavior (like bargaining and minimization) and recognizing it for what it is—an excuse to use.


Physical Relapse


This is the end of the line for one’s sobriety (for now), as they are actively using again. This is the actual relapse. They have fallen prey to a lapse in judgment or found an opportunity to test their ability to “use responsibly” or “just this one time.” No amount of sobriety under one’s belt should allow this to become a possibility. At this point, bottom lines must be kept and a recommitment to sobriety has to occur.


Light at the end of the tunnel


No matter if you’re a veteran addict with many rehab trips under your belt,  or this is your loved one’s first stint in rehabilitation, it’s important to know what awaits in the outside world. Furthermore, these tips shouldn’t scare you OUT of rehab. They are here to remind us all that we have to be active participants in our own lives—and in our recovery.

It’s time to find true recovery for yourself and those you love. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783
or visit us online.