relapse addiction signs

Warning Signs of a Drug or Alcohol Relapse

Combating drug addiction and alcoholism can change your life for the better. But, despite best intentions, many people find themselves slipping back into the very habits they want to stop. Drug relapse in substance abuse cases is not uncommon, and it is often the biggest hurdle that stands in the way of people seeking treatment for their addictions.

A relapse does not start when you pick up you’re the alcohol or drug. It’s a gradual process in which you first experience a change in attitudes, motivations, behaviors. Finally, this leads back to drug abuse and alcoholism.

Knowing these attitudes and behavioral changes beforehand can help us avoid relapse and alll the chaos it can cause.

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Warning signs of a drug or alcohol relapse

Here are some warning signs of drug relapse many experience.

A change in attitude

Despite undergoing your treatment program, you end up deciding that it is unimportant. There’s a war going on in your head. A part of you wants to use the drug while the other does not. You often fantasize about your previous lifestyle. You may glamorize your past experiences and often think about how good it used to feel to engage in your addiction.

Tip: Never forget the low points and chaos of addiction and look at these thoughts honestly.  Do you REALLY want to go back to that life? Did the alcohol and drugs REALLY make things better? We bet the answer is “NO.”

Missing meetings and therapy sessions

Another sign of relapse is making excuses and putting distance between you and your support system. You have lost the motivation to stay sober and now come up with ways to avoid treatment. It may include isolation and separation from loved ones, friends, family, and professional help.

Tip: If you don’t want to go to that meeting or therapy appointment, you probably need it. Addiction works like that. It is always trying to pry you away from the things that will reveal it’s true nature. Go to the meeting anyway. Chances are, you will feel better and that much farther away from your next drink or drug than you were before.

Emotional symptoms

During an emotional relapse, you are not specifically focusing on the drug. Rather your emotions and behaviors are setting you up for a possible relapse in the future. You may experience anxiety, depression, anger, defensiveness, intense mood swings, not asking for help, and poor eating and sleeping habits. Resentment towards other people or situations is a particularly deadly emotion. It will grow and fester until alcohol or drugs seem to be the only relief.

Tip: Seek out someone to talk to. Look at your part in the situation. Are you expecting people and situations to be different than they are? Are you attaching emotions and memories from the past to unrelated situations today? Find someone to relate this info with or write in all down.

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Behaving secretively

A person bound for relapse may show unusual or secretive behavior. Such as unexplained disappearances, borrowing for money, and even stealing money from their friends and family. When asked about their behaviors, they may become defensive and easily angered. Showing an extremely defensive attitude when asked about treatment is a major sign of drug relapse.

If you are resenting questions about your whereabouts, your thinking may be leaning towards relapse. You may be isolating and doing things that you wouldn’t admit to anyone.

Tip: Be aware of these tendencies and reach out to another sober friend or go to a meeting.


You have accepted that you have an abuse problem, but you deny the fact that stress is affecting you in any major way. Despite the harmful consequences, you may try to convince yourself that everything is alright. But in reality, you are lying to yourself and others about how you really feel.

Many people, after a period of sobriety, start thinking that their addiction “wasn’t that bad.” They may start to vbelieve that they were making a big deal out of a minor inconvenience.

Tip: DO NOT listen to this voice. One way to keep the pain of substance abuse at the forefront is to write a narrative about your last binge. Detail every thought that preceeds the incident. Write down all the things you did and to whom. It will feel very uncomfortable, if you are doing it right. But you will have an accurate account of what relapse REALLY looks like, not a fuzzy memory.

Revisiting previous people and places

A major step in recovery is severing ties with friends and people who motivate you to do drugs. You may start returning to your former contacts associated with drug abuse. Reconnecting with these people greatly increases the chance of relapse, and it can also indicate that the drug relapse and substance abuse has already taken place.

Tip: It can be very difficult to cut yourself off from people in your past. Learn new ways to tell your friends and family that you are sober now and are making new choices. You may be pleasantly surprised how many people will respect your decision.

Withdrawal symptoms

Leaving your old drug habits can lead you to mood changes, sleeplessness, memory problems, and social isolation. These symptoms can reoccur during times of stress, and you may be tempted to self-medicate or resort to previous drugs such as alcohol to cope with them.

Tip: Know that, with everything in life, this too will pass. Also remember that every time you get through physical symptoms without turning to drugs and alcohol for relief, you become stronger. The body will heal and become strong and healthy, but it can take time.

Increased stress levels

You may have occasional episodes of severe recurrent stress and may also become suicidal. If you have been in a rehabilitation center or an environment different from your usual residence, returning to your previous lifestyle can induce elevated stress. You may start over-reacting to these sudden changes in routine and have extreme mood swings.

Tip: Develop relationships with other sober people in your life. If you don’t know any, go to a recovery meeting in your area. Having someone to relate to and talk about daily stressors can help. Others in recovery can also give you tips to quit obsessing on the stressful situation.

Compulsive behaviors

Any activities that give you a small amount of pleasure may dominate you. In cases of addicts, they have become used to their substance abuse and will repeat the activity even if they do not feel like it because they are used to repeating these activities, and it gives them a small amount of pleasure. Suddenly stopping such routines may throw you off and increase your motivation to go back to their usage.

Tip: If you need new things to occupy your mind and body during early sobriety, pick activities that foster health. This could be a new hobby or exercise.

Rash Judgments

Experiencing a loss of control and making impulsive decisions that seem to be out of character for you. You experience trouble making decisions and end up making unhealthy choices you later regret. You may begin to believe that there is no hope, and you lose confidence in your ability to control your life.

Tip: Acting erratically can be an outward sign of inner conflict. You may not even be aware of the root cause for your reactions. Practice deep breathing and pausing before taking action.

Unrealistic expectations

People that achieve sobriety often underestimate the power of temptations and lower their guard down. They start to believe that they can repeat this cycle of drug abuse and will return to their sober states just like they did this once. These unrealistic expectations keep them from actively following their treatment plans, and they find themselves returning to their abusive patterns.

Tip: Addiction is progressive. This means that if you were able to quit drinking for a long period of time before, you may not be able to do it again. The obsession and physical carvings get stronger as you age. Decide that this is your last chance to quit and stick to it.

Loss of belief in an addiction recovery program

A sudden shift in the way you look at recovery and thinking that it’s meaningless and a waste of time. Belief and dedication to your program are essential parts of recovery; losing interest may quickly lead you down the path to using again.

Tip: Stick with it. Remember what it was like when you were drinking or taking drugs. If a few meetings a week kept you sober thus far, it is a small price to pay for sobriety.

Complete relapse

You quickly lose control and return to your substance abuse habits. Sometimes, these habits can be worse after you went through treatment than they were before. Because of this, you start experiencing problems with your job, relationships, and overall quality of life.

The Takeaway

Drug relapse and substance abuse signs can be subtle, but recognizing them and stopping them at the beginning phase can keep you sober today. If you experience these warning signs, you should contact your support group and let them know your thoughts. Remember, the thought processes and habits that took you down the road of addiction are not going to change overnight. Learn to spot and counteract them. Even if a relapse occurs, it is not the end of the road. It is a common problem during recovery, so you must not lose hope and restructure your plan and get back to your journey towards recovery if it occurs.

Warning signs of a drug or alcohol relapse
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Warning signs of a drug or alcohol relapse
Relapse is a gradual process in which you first experience a change in attitudes, motivations, behaviors.
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Ventura Recovery Center
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