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.

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