July 13, 2021

Recognizing a Potential Relapse in a Loved One

What Is Considered a Relapse?

It’s terrific when a loved one completes treatment and has stopped abusing alcohol or drugs. But that’s not the end of their journey to recovery. As long as they’re still exposed to the reasons for their substance abuse, they’ll be at risk of a relapse, and it’s vital to learn how recognizing a potential relapse so you can help them continue their recovery.

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Substance abuse relapse is more complicated than simply resuming drug or alcohol use. It also involves returning to the destructive thinking and habits that led the user to take up drugs or alcohol in the first place. Relapse can involve three stages: emotional, mental, and physical, and occurs in two ways:

A “Slip”

“Just one won’t hurt.” This thinking is an often-used and much-misunderstood claim made by both users and those around them, who do not understand that “just one” really can hurt the user’s recovery. Having just a tiny amount can make cravings come back even stronger than before, and the user may decide to just give in to failure and keep using.

Full Relapse

If the user has a slip-up and does not seek help, they could find themselves returning fully to their addiction. This can be a one-time break, an all-out binge, or extended use over time. If they do not seek help for their relapse, they are at significant risk of resuming their addiction.

The Stages of Relapse

Once the user leaves treatment and has to deal with the old pressures and circumstances that contributed to their addiction, they will experience a relapse in three stages:

Emotional Relapse

The recovering user may get defensive and angry about their situation or become withdrawn and isolated. In either case, they will not ask for help but will deny that they have a problem.

Mental Relapse

A mental relapse involves recalling how much the recovering user enjoyed drinking or using drugs while forgetting the bad parts. They may make excuses for why they need a drink or drug and insist that they can handle a brief return to the abuse.

Physical Relapse

This is the actual resumption of drug or alcohol use, whether it’s a slip-up or a total return. At this stage, it’s essential to realize that physical relapse doesn’t mean the game is over. They’ve done it before; they can do it again.

Common Causes of a Relapse

There’s no real escape from the events and people that can cause a recovering addict to have a relapse. Their workplace or home may still be stressful, and they may still be associating with people who enabled their addiction. New sources of stress may be added, and things that never bothered them may suddenly become a trigger.

Signs and Symptoms of a Relapse

When rehab is over and temptation and stress remain, here are the top signs that could indicate a relapse is likely to be occurring:

  • Changes in Physical Appearance: Poor hygiene or noticeable weight loss or gain can indicate a return to drug or alcohol use.
  • Compulsive Behavior and Poor Impulse Control: Seeking pleasure has become their main goal in life, and they make irrational decisions without any thought.
  • Denial or Minimizing: The user insists they’re not using drugs or alcohol or denies that they have a problem. “I can quit anytime; I’ve got it under control.”
  • Missing Treatment: The relapsed user will skip 12-Step meetings or therapy appointments and avoid people in their life who have encouraged their recovery.
  • Hanging Out with Old User Friends: If their old friends are still using or drinking, it will be challenging not to fall back into the same habits. It might be best to make new friends.
  • Sudden Mood Changes: Frequent, sharp switches from happy to sad or cheerful to angry can indicate a relapse. Moodiness can also be inappropriate to the occasion or out of proportion to what’s happening.
  • Money Problems: The relapsing user may start asking you for money or even stealing it, either to buy more drugs or alcohol or because their problem has cost them their job.

What to Do in Case of Relapse

Relapse prevention is a familiar challenge for many recovering users but don’t think of relapse as a failure. It’s just one more step in the process of sobriety. But it still needs your attention. In case relapse prevention fails, seek help immediately. Don’t wait until the relapse turns into a full-blown addiction again.

Call Muse Treatment for Addiction Recovery

When you or a loved one falls into relapse for drug or alcohol use disorder, contact Muse Treatment to get help resuming recovery and learn how recognizing a potential relapse can help prevent one. Muse Treatment takes a comprehensive approach to healing, treating the underlying causes of dependence as well as the addiction itself. Our caring, compassionate staff is highly trained and well qualified to guide your treatment. Call (800) 426-1818 today to learn how recognizing a potential relapse can put you on the road to sobriety.


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