A New Year Relapse: When to Seek Addiction Professional Help

Man leaping into new year

Relapse is common with addictions. It can be difficult at the beginning of the year to be able to maintain a relapse prevention plan. There are signs that can alert you to know if you need to seek help and get addiction treatment.

Signs of Relapse

First, social isolation is common as thoughts of using will start to resurface. Many individuals who are struggling will begin to pull back from activities and hobbies they used to enjoy [1].

This can include not attending support groups or 12-step meetings. Also, people will begin to make excuses for why they are not participating meetings anymore.

Secondly, the individual may start looking at their past addiction with nostalgia or romanticizing the drug abuse. This could include remembering all-night drinking or using with friends, or even recalling when they started using in the first place.

This nostalgic line of thinking is dangerous because it does not take into account the adverse effects or consequences of drug or alcohol use.

Another warning sign is thinking that one drink or one hit of a substance would be okay and that they would be able to control it this time. Many individuals at this point also believe it would not affect their sobriety.

They may find themselves slipping into relapse when they start to believe that using is not such an awful thing, or the same problems will not be present that were there before their sobriety.

This errant belief process can lead to seeking out drug-using friends or acquaintances from the times that you were using which can be a significant trigger [1].

Downward Spiral

As relapse begins to take hold, the individual may stop using healthy coping skills, engaging with their support team, or using the healthy behaviors that help keep sobriety a priority.

As this occurs, the individual may say their life situations are becoming more stressful and start actively looking for ways to reduce that stress through their addiction. As these addictive behaviors become more prevalent during the relapse, loved ones may notice changes in the user and begin to express concern.

A Few Statistics

According to a study in 2014, 40-60% of those who have been treated for addiction or alcoholism relapse within one year [2].

When a person begins to use substances, it releases dopamine into the system, which activates the reward center within the brain, and releases pleasurable and euphoric emotions, strengthening the addiction.

This creates a cycle of drug-seeking behavior within the individual because they wish to recreate the pleasurable experience and feel that way again.

This change in the brain chemistry also affects the prefrontal cortex, which affects problem-solving and critical thinking. This chemical reaction can affect a person’s brain to re-prioritize what is most important. To addicts, that is typically using drugs or alcohol [2].

For individuals who are using, the drugs do change the way the user will prioritize the substance versus family, work, relationships, and other areas in their life. Often, as the addiction becomes stronger in the user, it begins to take precedence over anything and everything else.

How to Get Back on Track to Sobriety

Being able to stop using drugs and alcohol is extremely difficult. Addiction is a chronic disease, and seeking help through treatment programs, 12-step programs, and support groups are essential for relapse prevention.

Man avoiding relapse with petFirst get back into your 12-step support group. These groups are available for individuals who are wanting to seek sobriety and remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol.

It also involves surrounding yourself with individuals who care about you and support your sobriety.

Get refocused on your HALT (are you too hungry, angry, bored, or tired) which if you are not taking mindful notice can lead to relapse.

Make an appointment with your outpatient therapist to gain new coping skills if old ones are not working. Identifying challenges to work-life pressures, relationships, family, loved ones, triggers, and other areas of life can help with learning how to regain sobriety.

Other Ways to Keep Sobriety First

Remember how hard you have worked for sobriety in the past. Using distraction tools and techniques is vital in detaching from triggering situations, events, or thoughts.

Couple enjoying the new year

Being able to get outdoors and take a hike, go for a bike ride or play a sport. Head to the library and find an interesting book, watch a movie, or call a supportive friend [2].

Being open and honest with your support team can help you get back into recovery. If you feel that any co-occurring disorders such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, or trauma are starting to become more symptomatic, it is time to seek help from an addiction professional [2].

Relapses can occur due to unidentified emotions, and substances are used to numb these uneasy and stressful emotions. Being able to identify what you are feeling, then talking with a professional, can help process the feelings and may help prevent a relapse.

Treatment can take many forms. Often individuals may need to re-enter treatment for a time to be able to recover from a relapse. Others may enter outpatient therapy to participate in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, or another form of traditional or holistic treatment.

Talking with your sponsor is a key to sobriety. Being able to stay connected with people who are supportive of your recovery plan and can help you through the tough ups and downs of your journey is imperative.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.
Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] 7 Warning Signs You Are Heading for a Relapse. (2016, February 15). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://www.promises.com/articles/relapse-prevention/7-warning-signs-you-are-heading-for-a-relapse/
[2] Why Do Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse So Often? (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2017-04-24/why-do-alcoholics-and-addicts-relapse-so-often
[3] Edited by Editorial Staff, created on 6 May 2013 | updated on 14 June 2017. (2017, June 14). Recognizing Drug and Alcohol Relapse Warning Signs for You and Your Loved Ones. Retrieved November 12, 2017, from https://www.recovery.org/topics/alcohol-or-drug-relapse-warning-signals/

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 3, 2018

Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.