Warning Signs of a Relapse

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Warning Signs of a Relapse

Relapse is common in addiction recovery. According to a frequently cited article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of people will relapse in the first year after addiction treatment. Although many are reluctant to say that relapse is part of addiction, it is at least very common. Contrary to popular belief, a relapse doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s typically a process and there are warning signs. If you know what to look out for in yourself and others, you may be able to stop a relapse before it happens. The earlier you catch someone, including yourself, in this process, the easier it is to get back on track. Typically, relapse happens in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical.


At the very beginning, people typically experience the emotional phase of relapse as a sort of dissatisfaction with recovery. In the beginning, recovery is challenging, but rewarding. You can see a lot of progress in a relatively short time. However, as the months go on, recovery gets both easier and more routine. It’s easy to feel complacent, like you’ve beaten addiction and you don’t have to work so hard on your recovery any more. You may still have some unresolved issues that are causing you problems. Perhaps you expected more from recovery and you’re feeling a bit disappointed. Whatever the case, you feel stalled, like you’re not making progress, and your thinking can turn negative. You may become cynical or pessimistic. You may not feel like participating in 12-step meetings. This negative turn of mind is often called “stinking thinking” in 12-step circles, and experienced members know it means trouble.


What starts out as dissatisfaction and possibly turns into negativity, cynicism, or even depression eventually starts affecting your thinking. When you feel bad, you look for reasons why. You may blame recovery or the people in your sober network. Relapse has progressed to the mental level when you start reminiscing about drug use, remembering the good times and forgetting the bad. You may start looking for excuses to relapse and may finally decide you’re just going to start using again. When you make that decision, it’s hard to avert a full relapse. You might start taking unwise risks like spending time in bars, even if you’re not drinking, or spending time around friends who drink or use drugs. By this point, you’ve probably already stopped doing some important parts of your recovery plan.


Physical relapse is what we typically think of as relapse: finally using drugs or alcohol again. Although physical relapse is common, you should avoid it if at all possible. Relapse is when people most frequently overdose. They are used to using a certain dosage of a substance, and when they resume after their tolerance drops, they take too much. Relapse can also be discouraging, since it feels like failure. However, people can and do sustain a successful recovery after several relapses. The important thing is to get back on track as quickly as possible. Talk to your therapist, go to meetings, and rely on on your sober network.

Pinnacle Recovery specializes in inpatient rehabilitation, trauma recovery, AA programs and AA alternatives, experiential therapy, dual diagnosis, family therapy, co-occurring and dual diagnosis addictions. We also offer a wide range of sober living and intensive outpatient treatment programs. Call 1-866-301-0573 today for more information.

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