Relapses are nearly always predictable and set into motion long before they actually occur.
Unfortunately, they are often predictable to family, friends, and counselors but not to the addict/alcoholic who is about to relapse. Warning signs include:
- Diminished interest in participating in recovery groups or sustaining the actions that supported recovery
- A return to negative attitudes (defensiveness, hostility and resentment, self-pity, mistrust, etc.)
- Isolation and accompanying feelings of loneliness
- A recurrence of the idea that “maybe this time will be different” and that alcohol or drugs can be used on a controlled basis
- Stress, anxiety, depression, and frustration, without using recovery tools and a trusted person to deal with these issues
- A renewed interest in old drinking/using friends
- Romanticizing the old days and the effects of a drink or drug (when they still worked and didn’t entail painful consequences)
- A resurgence in old behavior—selfishness and self-centeredness
- Loss of structure—abandoning routine, including basic things like recovery meetings, work, regular sleep times, housekeeping, etc.
- Impulsivity—taking actions without mature consideration, then blaming others for the negative results
- Engaging in other obsessions—gambling, sex, excessive risk-taking, and other obsessive behaviors put the recovering person at high risk for relapse
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and more in-depth discussions of these signs are available here.
One of the chief goals of treatment is to foster a sense of self-awareness in the newly recovering addict or alcoholic such that a foundation can be built for ongoing self-monitoring.
Vigilance is key here, and the recovering person needs to be willing to sustain a watchful attitude toward his or her own inner processes. However, this can’t be successfully maintained in isolation; sponsorship and community are vital to reflect back to the individual attitudes and behaviors that might be relapse warning signs.