Relapse Prevention: Recognizing Early Warning Signs

Addiction recovery is a process, and it comes with a fair share of rewards and challenges along the way. Some days individuals may be feeling very positive and confident, while other days they may be having a rougher time and feel more down on themselves. These ups and downs can increase risk of relapse if individuals are not proactive in recognizing early warning signs and addressing them before they become more serious.

Relapse is often seen as a sign that treatment did not work, but that is not true. Addiction relapse rates are only 20% less than most chronic diseases. It is a sign that something needs to change, and individuals need to take a closer look at their routines, activities, and support system in recovery. While relapse is most common within the first year, it can happen at any time, even after decades of continued sobriety. There are various faces of relapse, and specific triggers can be different for everyone, but there are some common early warning signs.

Rising Stress

The causes of drug relapse are many, but unmanaged stress is certainly one to note. This can be especially true for those with anxiety as well who have gone through co-occurring disorder treatment. Learning how to calm one’s mind, release tension in healthy ways, and keep stress in check is essential. When emotions run high and become overwhelming, it can increase risk of relapse. People may turn to drugs or alcohol as a quick fix, when really it can just exacerbate problems.

Lack of Self-Care

Another early warning sign can be losing focus on self-care. When people start becoming more lax about personal hygiene, daily exercise, eating a healthy diet, and making time for activities they find enjoyable, they can begin to slip back into old routines that were once associated with active addiction. It is especially important for individuals with co-occurring disorders such as addiction and eating disorders to make their well-being a priority and ensure they’re treating their body well.

Even if you’re not feeling up to it, make a point to get up, shower, get dressed, and enjoy some fresh air. It can make you feel more invigorated and boost your mood so you don’t get caught in a rut. If you’re having trouble finding motivation, talk to a friend who can help you get moving.

Sacrificing Good Habits

Part of substance use relapse prevention is creating healthy routines and habits. However, people need to change things up from time to time. Becoming complacent and getting bored with what you’re doing can lead to poor choices. When you start skipping meetings, being less participatory in group counseling, and are just going through the motions, it can be a recipe for relapse.

Find ways to make things more engaging and exciting. Try new activities, attend a support group meeting on a different day or time, and let your therapist know you’re beginning to feel stuck where you’re at. Make healthy changes to help you keep pushing forward.

Negative Influences

One of the major warning signs of addiction relapse is spending time around negative influences. This could include people, places, or objects. For instance, getting back in touch with old friends who are still in active addiction, hanging around places where substance use is prevalent, or even reminiscing over certain belongings that remind you of your days before addiction treatment. It can start small and seemingly harmless, but the more you let these negative influences infiltrate your life, the greater the risk for relapse can become.

Focus on spending time with people who support your recovery and substance use relapse prevention efforts. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about who you are and what you’re doing and motivate you to want to keep reaching for your goals. Find new hangouts that don’t involve alcohol so there is less temptation, and make sure you always have a safe, substance-free environment to return to.

Relapse can be a major hurdle in recovery, but it is manageable. You can get back on track and continue making positive changes in your life. Being alert to early warning signs – and taking action when you notice these changes – can help you to reduce your risk of relapse. Warning signs for addiction relapse are not something to ignore. Reach out to a reputable addiction recovery center like Crossroads to create a relapse prevention plan and build a strong foundation for recovery and ongoing support.