In my past two posts, I talked about alcohol abuse and identifying our triggers in addiction. However, once we’ve been in treatment, or just working to better ourselves on our own, what do we do once we’re there? It’s important to be aware of relapse signs and symptoms so we can stop ourselves from undoing all the hard work we’ve done by getting clean, and taking control over our lives again.

The 10 Most Common Relapse Dangers

Before addressing signs and symptoms of relapse, let’s take a look at the ten most common dangers of relapse.

  1. Being in the presence of drugs or alcohol, drug or alcohol users, or places where you used or bought chemicals. 
    Sometimes the drug itself can have such a strong hold on you, that if you are in the presence of the drug, you may not be able to turn the chance to do it down. Even the people can be enough to persuade you to use again. If you are not sure whether you can turn something down, then may be best to avoid the situation until you are 100% sure you can say no. It may even be the case that you will never be able to be around the same people, or in situations where the drug/alcohol is present. Only you can determine this for yourself – but before you decide, make sure to question your reasoning with DISARM.
  2. Feelings we perceive as negative, particularly anger; also sadness, loneliness, guilt, fear, and anxiety.
    If feelings were one of our triggers for using/drinking before, make sure you are on guard if those feelings pop back up. Have a plan in place for alternative activities in these situations.
  3. Positive Feelings that make you want to celebrate
     Celebrating can be an easy trap to fall into – especially if feeling sad was a reason for drinking/using before. It can be easy to rationalize, “well, if I had problems drinking or using when I was sad – then I should be perfectly fine when I’m celebrating”.
  4. Boredom
    If we having nothing else to do, and we’re feeling bored – sometimes boredom can lead to feelings of sadness or loneliness. Remember – have a back up plan of activities or other things you can do to avoid giving into using/drinking.
  5. Getting high on any drug
    It can be easy to find something else to substitute the feeling of being high. Often this can become misusing prescription and/or over the counter medication – anything that has the ability to alter your mood.
  6. Physical Pain
    This is a tough one, especially if you experience chronic pain. It’s important to find an outlet, whether it’s through a pain management clinic, therapy, meditation, etc. Talk to your doctor about all possible options to lessen the pain – and MAKE SURE your doctor knows you have a problem with drug misuse so that they can help prepare you in a way that your successful in preventing relapse.
  7. Listening to war stories and just dwelling on getting high
    This can induce feelings of sadness, like in number 4
  8. Suddenly having a lot of cash
    Like many drug/alcohol users – pay-day was often associated with going out and buying drugs and/or alcohol, because that is when you had funds again. It can be easy to fall back in that trap when payday becomes a “trigger” or was previously associated with using.
  9. Using Prescription drugs that can get you high even if you use them properly
    This is similar to #5
  10. Believing that you no longer have to worry (becoming complacent). That is, that you are no longer stimulated to crave drugs/alcohol by any of the above situations, or by anything else – and therefore maybe it’s safe for you to use occasionally.
    This is by all means false – you must ALWAYS stay on alert for using behaviours. When we become complacent, we are more likely to fall back into old patterns.

Relapse Signs and Symptoms

Experiencing Post Acute Withdrawal: You start having problems with one or more of the following; thinking difficulties, emotional overreaction problems, sleep disturbances, memory difficulties, becoming accident prone, and/or starting to experience a serious sensitivity to stress.

Return to Denial: I stop telling others what I’m thinking/feeling and start trying to convince myself or others that everything is all right, when in fact it’s not.

Avoidance and Defensive Behaviour: I start avoiding people who will give me honest feedback and/or I start becoming irritable and angry with them.

Start to Crisis Build: I start to notice that ordinary everyday problems become overwhelming and no matter how hard I try, I can’t solve my problems.

Feeling Immobilized (stuck): I start believing that there is nowhere to turn and no way to solve my problems. I feel trapped and start to use “magical thinking”

Becoming Depressed: I start feeling down-in-the-dumps and have very low energy. I may even become so depressed that I start thinking of suicide.

Compulsive and/or Impulsive Behaviours (Loss of Control): I start using one or more of the following – food, sex, caffeine, nicotine, work, gambling, etc. often in an out of control fashion. And/or I may react without thinking of the consequences of my behaviour on myself and others.

Urges and Cravings (Thinking About Drinking/Using): I begin to think about alcohol/drug use as the only way to feel better. I start thinking about justifications to drink/use and convince myself that using is the logical thing to do.

Chemical Loss of Control (Drinking/Using): I find myself drinking/using again to solve my problems. I start to believe that “it’s all over ’till I hit bottom, so I may as well enjoy this relapse while it’s good.” My problems continue to get worse.

In Sum…

By being aware of these relapse signs & symptoms, and relapse dangers – you can help to ward off the hard work you’ve done to become clean and/or getting your drinking under control. This is in no way a guarantee or complete list of how to forever avoid relapsing. This is meant to be an idea on how to get started, and to become aware of when these behaviours begin to arise. If you would like more information, check out these additional resources below…

Drug Rehabilitation: Signs of Relapse

Relapse Prevention: Learning to Help Yourself

Backwards Steps to Addictive Behaviors

Forward Steps to Recovery

Relapse Prevention: Triggers Worksheet

Relapse Prevention: Activities you might enjoy

How to Deal with Blacksliding

Feel free to post your suggestions for relapse prevention in the comments!

Relapse Prevention
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