Understanding Relapse and Recognizing the Signs

relapse signs Understanding Relapse and Recognizing the Signs 1

What is Relapse?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates for drug addiction are similar to other chronic diseases, like high blood pressure. “If people stop following their medical treatment plan, they are likely to relapse,” says one article.

We can relapse into old behaviors and actions and even return to our old ways of lying and manipulation before we return to substance abuse. In the recovery process, we realize that we must change everything: our thinking, behaviors and especially our actions. How can we understand what happens before a relapse?

Old Behaviors and Relapse

Our behaviors are patterns that tended to get us in trouble, and we didn’t understand why. We don’t give much thought to our actions; we usually don’t see anything wrong with them because we’ve been doing these behaviors for so long. The other part of why we continue to do these behaviors is that we’ve always gotten something out of doing them.

Relapse Patterns

We may not realize our patterns when it comes to our behaviors. Recognizing our patterns is something that comes with awareness. It requires us to look at ourselves from an outside perspective. Needing a different perspective is a reason why rehab is so important. Addiction treatment allows us to get to the root of our problems so we can begin to learn how to change our behaviors. Learning how to change our behaviors and our patterns is an essential part of avoiding the high risk of relapse.

Most of us struggling with substance use disorders need to have a clinical approach to our recovery in the beginning in conjunction with a 12-step program. Having both a clinical and a recovery-based perspective gives us the chance to take a hard look at ourselves. From a clinical standpoint, we can work through therapy to help us change our thought patterns that our behaviors stem from. It’s important to trust people in our sober support system, like a sponsor or people in our sober living home, because they can call us out on our behaviors. Your sponsor will also take you through the steps and show you how to get through some of your character defects to get out of poor behavioral patterns. We can then use our new therapy techniques to have success in changing our negative behaviors.

Manipulation and Relapse

When we’re using or drinking, we often manipulate our friends and family without realizing it by lying or executing a plan to get what we want. Addicts and alcoholics are master manipulators. When we enter recovery, we still manipulate and lie. Manipulation may be less frequent and less blatant, but it is a hard behavior to spot when we’re accustomed to operating that way to get what we want.

Learning how to spot manipulation in ourselves is difficult, and that is why we need others to help point it out. When we begin ignoring the signs of manipulation or get caught in lies and rationalize why we lied, it puts us in a dangerous position with self-deception. Falling into patterns of justification and rationalization is a red flag of old behaviors and not taking responsibility for our actions. All of these behaviors are signs of substance abuse relapse.

Granted, there will be times when we will have a brief slip while learning how to live life differently. There is no such thing as a perfect human being. The most significant sign of progress comes when we have the awareness on our own that we are displaying old behaviors. There may be times when we don’t realize it, but if someone points it out, we can change our behavior and make any amends necessary for the negative behaviors. This is where growth happens in breaking our negative patterns.

Self-Deception and Relapse

When we start deceiving ourselves, we are in the dangerous territory of a relapse. Self-deception is one of the darkest places an addict or alcoholic can find themselves. When we begin to deceive ourselves, every bad decision, action, or thought can be rationalized and justified or minimized, so it isn’t deemed “as bad” to ourselves anymore.

Self-deception is part of mental and emotional relapse, which are two of the stages of relapse. All of our old behaviors, patterns, and thinking come back. We begin to repress the things that we were taught in treatment facilities or groups. We may not even realize that these seemingly small differences are the beginning of relapse. Our old defense mechanisms can be sparked by a certain event like the death of a loved one or problems with mental health. Having our support group or therapist there to point out these behaviors is crucial to long-term sobriety.

5 Common Defense Mechanisms

These defense mechanisms aren’t healthy, but you may notice that you are employing them in order to avoid what’s going on mentally and emotionally. If you notice that any of these signs are occurring, make sure you reach out to someone.

  1. Denial – Refusal to accept reality or a fact; acting like a painful event, thought, or feeling doesn’t exist. Denial is one of the easiest defense mechanisms that we employ. For example: “a functioning alcoholic” is in denial.
  2. Regression – Taking the position of a child in the face of problematic situations. An example is reacting to stress by staying in bed all day and not engaging in normal activities.
  3. Acting out – This can be any extreme behavior to express a thought or feeling that you feel incapable of expressing in a normal manner. Acting out can range from having a temper tantrum to self-harm. It’s being unable to express emotions and funneling them into extreme behavior to gain an emotional release.
  4. Dissociation – This is a mental process that causes a lack of connection in thoughts, memory, and sense of identity. There is a scale for dissociation that depends on severity. While most people daydream or get lost in a book, others suffer to the point of what is now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder.
  5. Compartmentalization – This is a subconscious defense mechanism to avoid mental discomfort from having differing values. Compartmentalization allows the conflicting ideas to co-exist while they’re not integrated. A good example is when kids act out in school, and then at home are perfect children; they compartmentalize the two values of what is and isn’t okay to do.

These defense mechanisms are all signs of relapse. Relapse begins before you pick up a drug or a drink.

The 3 Stages of Relapse

A relapse is a culmination of events, behaviors, and emotions. At first, we may not realize that these are signs of a relapse, but they put us on a bad track to return to drug addictions and drinking. There are two other steps before a physical relapse and resuming drug or alcohol use.

1. Emotional Relapse

Often described as becoming restless, irritable, and discontent. Some of the symptoms of emotional relapse are anxiety, anger, defensiveness, not asking for help, not going to meetings, poor sleeping habits, and isolation. At the point of emotional relapse, we usually aren’t thinking about using. It’s a focus on our emotions and how we aren’t emotionally stable or are acting out in old behaviors.

Self-care comes into play to take care of ourselves emotionally. Making sure that we aren’t deflecting our problems or neglecting our self-care to keep in good emotional shape is a way to prevent emotional relapse. In turn, if we recognize these behaviors, we need to reach out for help to change them.

2. Mental Relapse

A mental relapse usually takes hold after the emotional relapse has already been occurring. Or they can occur seemingly simultaneously because we don’t have enough awareness to separate what is emotional and what is mental at this point. Signs of a mental relapse may include cravings for drugs and alcohol, minimizing consequences from past use, romanticizing drug use, bargaining with yourself about using, scheming to control using, and planning a relapse. Mental relapse can be made worse by experiencing euphoric recall, which can trigger your mental relapse without you realizing it by bringing up only good memories of use.

3. Physical Relapse

The act of consuming drugs or alcohol is a physical relapse. Most people are ill-equipped to say no at this point if they have already been struggling with mental and emotional relapse.

Most physical relapses are a relapse of opportunity. A relapse of opportunity occurs when a person believes they can use and get away with it or when they are presented with drugs or alcohol and don’t have a proper exit strategy.

Understanding Relapse

There are multiple factors to relapse. Most people don’t see the underlying factors that play into a relapse and only see the physical relapse. When we are educated about what leads up to relapse, it gives us and those around us the chance to recognize these warning signs. Relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your journey. Relapses do happen, but they are preventable when we are properly equipped to handle them.

If you or a loved one are struggling after a relapse, contact us today at (855) 448-3588. You can overcome a relapse. We can show you how to achieve long-term sobriety.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff
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