Understanding Relapse in Addiction Recovery

Woman on phone

For many individuals in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction, the conclusion of the holidays may come with a sense of relief.  The season of celebrations also brings increased stress, pressure, and angst to those who may be fighting for their recovery from substance abuse.  This may be a result of encountering family members or friends who trigger emotional strain or discomfort.  While drugs or alcohol may have served as a coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming emotions or unwanted circumstances, applying healthier coping strategies can be difficult to sustain under tension.

Relapse in recovery from alcohol or substance abuse is not uncommon.  If fact, it is estimated that approximately 60 percent of those trying to remain abstinent have at least one relapse before they achieve lasting sobriety [1].  Relapses are often triggered by stress, times of celebration, negative or challenging emotions, and people or places connected to the addictive behavior.  If you or a loved one is in addiction recovery, you may have found that the holiday season was especially challenging as it evoked many of the common triggers for relapse.

Drug and alcohol relapse does not simply begin with picking up a drug or drink but is rather a slow process that develops gradually.  Relapse is connected with many changes in feelings, attitudes, and behaviors that can lead to the desire to use drugs or alcohol again.  What are the signs of relapse?  Being aware of the following symptoms can be helpful in identifying if you or a loved one is heading down the slippery slope of relapse:

  • No longer complying with treatment recommendations
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Reminiscing or romanticizing about addiction days
  • Avoidance of social situations or relationships
  • Feelings of loneliness, depression, or anxiety
  • Reconnecting with friends associated with your addiction
  • Resentment or defensiveness towards individuals attempting to help you
  • Behavioral/attitude changes, such as increased moodiness, anger, or impatience
  • Reappearing withdrawal symptoms

If you have experienced a relapse in your recovery, it is important to understand that this does not mean you have failed or should give up entirely.  Recovery from an addiction is a journey that will involve many highs and lows, and experiencing a relapse does not void the effort you have put towards sobriety.  Reconnecting to the help that placed you on the road to recovery is crucial for breaking the vicious cycle of addiction.  No matter how impossible it might seem, there is always hope for recovery.  Addiction Hope offers a multitude of resources for you and your loved one in the case of relapse and for connecting to the help you need to recover from an addiction.


[1]: National Institute on Drug Abuse http://www.drugabuse.gov/

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