Nobody intends to become addicted to alcohol or drugs, but it happens much faster than anyone ever expects. For most individuals, the progression from substance abuser to an addict is a very slow or gradual process that’s almost unnoticeable. However, an addict’s loved ones will almost always notice even the most incremental changes, especially those pertaining to behavior and demeanor. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to those who become addicted to alcohol and drugs, which offer them a means of restoring their health and sobriety.
Signs that you’re headed for relapse
When people consider the addiction recovery process, they often don’t realize that recovery isn’t the same as virtually any other task that a person will begin and complete; instead, recovery is a lifelong process that requires continuous focus and conviction. A person who stops putting time or effort into his or her recovery will be at increased risk of relapsing. It’s important for those in recovery as well as recovering addicts’ loved ones to be aware of some of the most common signs of relapse so that anyone who has begun reverting back to substance abuse can take action so as not to fall back into active addiction.
#1 – No longer participating in support groups
Although addiction treatment programs are considered the most effective way to get sober, most recovering addicts use other resources to maintain that sobriety once they’ve broken their dependence on the chemical substances to which they were addicted. In particular, many people sustain their sobriety using twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and a variety of other support groups as well. When people become members of these support groups, they continue attending those groups—in many cases for the rest of their lives—as attending meetings helps them to maintain the importance of sobriety. However, it’s very common for people to stop participating in programs and attending meetings because it reminds them of what they’ve lost. Additionally, they don’t want others to know they’ve relapsed.
#2 – Putting of step work
The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is found in the “Big Book.” In the chapter named How it Works, the twelve steps and twelve traditions are outlined. If you are not currently working your steps, or have not already worked your steps, you are not in recovery. The entire program functions from the step work. You get sober through the step work. You stay sober through the step work. You help others stay sober through the step work. If you aren’t doing the step work, you are doing none of the above. You can go to meetings, and hang out with sober people, and read the “Big Book,” or other recovery-associated literature, but there is no combination of those things that can take the place of your working the steps. If you put off your step work, you are putting off your sobriety. One of the foundations of the program is giving back to others. If you never do your step work or take forever to finish it, then the longer it will take you to be able to take someone else through the steps. And, what keeps you sober is giving back.
#3 – Not praying or meditating
Prayer and meditation are both cornerstones of the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Most of us who have been in recovery for any substantial period of time will experience fluctuations between feeling a high level of spiritual connection, to feeling almost totally not connected. I know when I am feeling less spiritually connected, my prayer and meditation habits may have been lacking. Prayer and meditation anchor the recovering person in the will of their higher power, or God. Twelve-Step programs are not religious programs. They are spiritual programs. So, when using the term “God,” I am describing the God of your understanding. Meditation is a time for quiet reflection and listening. Prayer is a time for communicating with your higher power. You need both to effectively connect to your higher power or spiritual connection.
#4 – Glorifying or romanticizing periods of prior substance abuse
Many people speak about their pasts with contentment, satisfaction, and/or nostalgia. Over the course of rehabilitation, addicts come to look back on their time in active addiction as being a major detriment to their lives and the cause of much hardship. However, a person who has relapsed will often begin to romanticize or glorify their history with substance abuse. In many cases, this involves citing specific events or experiences that occurred while one was under the influence. The main problem with this glorification is that it means a person is focusing much less on the repercussions and consequences that resulted from his or her prior substance abuse.
#5 – Previous behaviors emerge
In treatment, people learn about the various habits and behaviors that they can avoid to help them remain sober. Addicts tend to live their lives in a very specific way, being withdrawn from anyone who doesn’t abuse alcohol or drugs, and showing very little concern for physical appearance. When someone who’s been in recovery begins exhibiting some of his or her old behaviors—suddenly becoming less concerned with grooming and hygiene or any type of behavior that might be considered similar to obsessive compulsions—it’s like that he or she has relapsed or is in great danger of relapsing.
#6 – Insisting that just one drink or just a small amount of a drug isn’t a risk
Perhaps the most telling sign of all is when a recovering addict begins to say that he or she believes that just a single drink or just a small amount of drugs on one occasion wouldn’t be a major risk. Upon saying this, these individuals often also say that recovery helped them to learn the self-control necessary to imbibe mind-altering substances on occasion without becoming an addict again. This shows that the individual has begun to rationalize his or her substance abuse behavior, which is a primary sign of relapse.
#7 – Not having a sponsor or not communicating with your sponsor
Sponsorship is an integral component of AA and NA. If you don’t have a sponsor or stay in regular contact with your sponsor, you could be in trouble, and very close to a relapse. If you never get a sponsor, then it’s not likely that you will be working your steps, in the near future, at least. And, the faster you work your steps, the faster you can take someone else through the steps. Another downside to not having or talking to your sponsor is not receiving the guidance and suggestions that you need from someone who you respect in the program. While you may have other important, or supportive friends or family members, a sponsor can fill a different role. A sponsor can help you to see your life through the program, and hopefully, act accordingly.
#8 – Not taking care of yourself
If you are preoccupied with using drugs and alcohol, your typical habits regarding self-care will likely slip by the wayside. Our self-worth and self-esteem is tied to sobriety because sobriety and recovery is self-esteem-building lifestyle. If we are lacking in our program and not doing the things we need to do in that area, we may not be feeling very good about ourselves. Or, maybe we just don’t care.
#9 – Reconnecting with old friends and aquaintances
Substance abusers will typically associate only with other substance abusers. Since alcohol or drug use penetrates most parts of the day, it’s inconvenient for addicts to socialize with non-users due to cases in which the addict may begin needing a fix while spending time with a non-using friend. Therefore, when a recovered addict begins spending time and socializing with the people that were his or her friends during active addiction, there’s a significant chance that the individual has relapsed or is in danger of relapsing.
#10 – Shows signs of slipping out of daily routines
Similar to the reappearance of previous behaviors, a recovered addict who has relapsed will slowly begin to slip out of his or her daily routines. This could mean going to bed significantly later or sleeping much later, leaving his or her home several times throughout the day, unexplained absences from work, no longer keeping up with his or her laundry, and numerous other changes in routine. However, changes in routine can be difficult to detect for those who don’t actually live with the recovered addict.
#11 – Defensiveness
A common characteristic of alcohol and drug addicts is defensiveness. Although it originates in being defensive against accusations of substance abuse, an addict’s defensiveness quickly bleeds into most other aspects of life. Anyone the individual is questioned about something, even the most mundane things, there’s a strong chance that he or she will get defensive. This comes from the assumption that many addicts have, feeling as if everyone is trying to accuse them of things. Defensiveness is particularly common when the accusations are correct. As such, a recovered addict’s becoming defensive is another great way to detect a relapse.
#12 – Exhibiting compulsive behaviors
Compulsive behaviors are an extremely common trait among individuals with substance abuse problems. When a person has previously suffered from addiction, there’s a strong indication that he or she has an addictive personality, or that he or she could easily become addicted to other things. Therefore, activities that could offer even the slightest level of pleasure or enjoyment can become compulsions; examples include playing cards, which can become gambling, or cooking, which can become food addiction. The appearance of compulsive behavior should be taken as an indication that there’s likely a relapse on the horizon.
#13 – Having unrealistic expectations
When addicts begin the process of recovery, they frequently assume that overcoming their addictions will solve all of their problems. As much as they might want this to be true, they discover over the course of treatment that this isn’t the case. However, unrealistic expectations is a very common characteristic of substance abusers. For the relapse of someone in recovery, the recovering addict will feel that his or her recovery isn’t progressing fast enough, which can lead him or her to begin questioning what sobriety has to offer.
#14 – Denial
Much like defensiveness, denial is a near-universal characteristic among addicts. Not only do they deny it to others, but they often deny it to themselves. In fact, it’s quite common for addicts to actually convince themselves that they don’t have alcohol or drug problems. When a recovering addict begins to deny feelings of stress or the toll that day-to-day problems often take, it’s often because they’re on the verge of backsliding into a familiar means of dealing with such issues, which is to use alcohol or drugs as a means of coping.
#15 – Inability to work through emotions
Part of being a healthy adult means being able to recognize and experience one’s emotions, and then work through them and move on. A characteristic of many addicts is a tendency to get stuck in certain emotions or, conversely, not to acknowledge or feel them at all. In early recovery, many people often feel overwhelmed by the emotions they’ve not really dealt with in a long time, but through treatment, they learn how to process these feelings. However, recovering addicts who are at risk of relapse will seem to start getting stuck in their emotions, unable to work through them, and simply stagnating, especially when it comes to feelings of frustration, anger, and other feelings involving stress.
#16 – Distancing oneself from a support system
Becoming withdrawn and distant is characteristic that most if not all addicts exhibit. Addicts withdraw from loved ones because, among many other reasons, it’s easier to hide a substance abuse problem when loved ones are kept at arm’s length. While early recovery typically involves reestablishing one’s support system, it’s common for those on the verge of relapse to suddenly begin distancing themselves from the individuals in their support networks.
#17 – Sudden interest and pursuit of intimate relationships
Most addicts are taught in rehab to give themselves plenty of time before pursuing any romantic relationships. The purpose of this is to spend sufficient time working and focusing on themselves, during which time they likely wouldn’t be able to give as much of themselves to another person. However, a recovered addict who is suddenly pursuing romantic or sexual relationships with others is clearly no longer considering spending such time ensuring his or her own physical, mental, and emotional well-being.