The Other “R” Word: “Relapse”

Addiction Relapse

The path to recovery for an drug addict is a life-long commitment. Addiction relapse is a very common issue that can plague many addicts. Addiction relapse occurs long before the individual begins using again. In fact, there are professionally documented warning signs to be aware of. More than 25 years ago, the Gorski and Miller study pinpointed 11 indicators of a potential drug or alcohol relapse.

1. Attitude Changes:

The danger of addiction relapse begins when an individual in recovery starts to experience negative shifts in attitude. Attending supporting groups and working the program loses priority. The individual begins to experience addictive thought patterns that are unmanageable.

2. Increased Stress Levels:

Changes in one’s environment can naturally lead to increased stress levels for anyone. An individual in recovery may not be prepared to deal with increased stress levels in a healthy way. Returning to life after completing a rehab treatment program can be an especially challenging time. The temptation to use drugs or alcohol will be very tempting when faced with stressful situations and addictive triggers.

3. Denial:

An individual in recovery who begins denying his or her feelings is going down a slippery slope. In not wanting to admit the pressures of mounting stress, one will dismiss the tension and anxiety that persists. Choosing to ignore these emotions can set the stage for a dangerous and sudden addiction relapse. Suppressed emotions can reach a breaking point where the addict loses all control and turns to drug or alcohol use for immediate relief.

4. Behavioral Changes

In this phase, healthy routines may start to slide. In treatment, the addict learns to replace destructive behaviors with healthy ones. But, when a disregard for self-care and healthy behaviors surfaces, destructive behavioral changes can indicate a potential relapse.

5. Withdrawal Symptoms

An addict in recovery can experience withdrawal symptoms under high levels of stress. Depression, anxiety, memory loss and insomnia can resurface during difficult times and increase the likelihood of a relapse.

6. Loss of Routine

An individual heading for relapse will demonstrate a loss of motivation to maintain daily routines. This can also lead to poor personal hygiene, unhealthy sleep patterns and irregular eating habits.

7. Social Anxiety

Withdrawing from valued social circles is another key indicator of potential relapse. The individual will stop attending support group meetings completely and lose interest in social functions. Regular communication with family and friends will also diminish as the desire to isolate oneself increases.

8. Poor Judgement

At this point, decision making becomes very difficult. The individual’s mind becomes confused and overwhelmed, leading to poor decisions. It becomes increasingly hard to relax and the individual can become easily annoyed, tense and angry.

9. Loss of Control

Relapse is increasingly imminent when irrational choices and a loss of self-control start to manifest. The addict begins to believe that he or she can use drugs or alcohol and remain in control. An addict cannot manage his or her drug or alcohol use.

10. Self-Limiting Behaviors

The individual continues withdrawing further from social obligations and stops attending support meetings. At this point the individual reaches extreme levels of hopelessness that can turn suicidal. He or she believes alcohol or drug use is the only relief available.

11. Relapse

In relapse, the individual turns to drugs and alcohol again. When the individual begins using again, extreme guilt follows. In order to relieve the burdening guilt, the individual uses again. Thus, the cycle of abuse is born again. The addiction can quickly take over. At this point the addict’s life can spiral dangerously out of control again.
If you are an individual in recovery, it is important to be aware of the warning signs and the potential dangers of a relapse. Reach out for additional support if these symptoms sound familiar to you. Making a commitment to increase your support outreach during times of stress can you help to manage these 11 symptoms and prevent relapse. Treatment and support groups are always available to help you maintain a life of recovery.

For more information on relapse prevention or recovery treatment programs, visit or call 866.331.6779.

The Addiction Blog