Relapse is often an addict’s worst fear in the recovery process. The idea of returning to a substance after having remained abstinent for a period of time is associated with feelings of guilt and shame. For many, it’s the terrifying realization of having climbed the ladder towards recovery, only to be knocked back down to the bottom rung at a moment’s notice.
Here are 4 situations that can be classified as predictable warnings signs of relapse.
1. Life-changing Events
Whether positive or negative, life-altering events are periods of transition that can be hard enough on a person on its own. For an addict, however, the shaking of one’s foundation can cause the individual to feel as if their stability is being threatened and that the ground is cracking beneath them. Examples of such events that could trigger such emotional anxieties include the birth of a new baby, a marriage, the death of a close family member, or a demotion or promotion at work. These kinds of life-changing events can cause an addict to question whether or not they are ready to take on these new responsibilities or onset of new emotions and cause them to fall back into old habits to deal with the unexpected change.
2. Loss of Control
We’re all at our most powerful when we feel in control of situations. Without that sense of control, we feel helpless, as if our lives are now out of our hands and we cannot guarantee the outcome. An unexpected loss of control can throw an addict into the memory of what it was like to be a slave to a substance. This can be a potentially dangerous gateway if not coped with in a healthy manner.
Imagine the company you work for is enduring economic hardship and to make up for it, they have begun laying off some of their workers, even those that have been there for years. Imagine you turn out to be one of those workers. This is a situation that you have no control over and it’s undoubtedly terrifying. You can’t control the state of the economy and you most certainly can’t control your boss’ decision to reduce costs by letting go of employees. In situations like this, it can be helpful to look at what you can control rather than what you can’t. Can you rely on savings for some time? Can you rely on family members for potential financial assistance? Can you control whether or not you start looking for another job and how many applications you put in a day? Nonetheless, these situations can be very triggering for an addict and can potentially lead to a relapse in order to cope.
3. Increasing Stress
Stress is a scary word in our culture because it is often tied to words like mental or physical breakdowns, sometimes both. We hear horror stories of people becoming so stressed that they become ill, injured or medicated. We all have different ways of coping with stress—whether it’s exercise, calling a friend to talk, listening to calming music, etc. But for an addict, an increase in stress can potentially be a trigger for relapse, as that was once the only way the individual knew how to deal with stress.
Most people equate stress with work but stress can also be found in one’s personal life. Such an example would be a deteriorating relationship or a crumbling marriage. Coming home every night to a toxic environment where you and your significant other are constantly fighting can undoubtedly trigger an immediate need to cope, and the presence of children may add even more stress to the situation. These situations can contain more elements of “loss of control” when you’re only able to control your own emotions and not your partners, all of which can be a gateway to a relapse.
4. Cravings and Urges to Use the Substance
Whether a person is physiologically addicted to a substance or psychologically addicted, cravings and urges can exist all the same and propel an addict into using. For many recovering addicts, memories of usage may be associated with a particular time of day or of the week or in specific social situations. These times in particular can trigger an urge just as much as withdrawal can trigger similar symptoms. In these moments, when it feels as if every part of your physical body is wanting the drug and the voice in your head is telling you to use, it’s important to remember that these are the moments where the risk for relapse is high. This is the most difficult moment you must work to get through. Take it moment by moment and rely on the coping skills taught to you in treatment. Ask for additional help if needed, whether it’s through a sponsor or even a substance abuse professional. If you’d like to inquire about addiction specialists in your area, call 866-606-0182 or simply browse our directory of rehab centers.
The importance of identifying the potential warning signs of relapse is self-awareness. When we anticipate what may happen in the future and plan how to deal with it in real time, we are more likely to overcome a situation by having adequately prepared for it. It’s when we are caught off guard and with no knowledge of how to cope with such things when addicts may find themselves in trouble. By recognizing that these are parts of life that will inevitably have to be dealt with, you are already committing to facing them head on and to overcoming them to continue on your path to recovery.