How to Identify the Signs of Addiction Relapse.



Relapse is the eye of the addiction storm.

Addiction can be a heavy-handed topic, and it’s not always a pleasant conversation to have. But if you’re struggling with reading about it, imagine what it might be like to live with it. Help me spread the word; help others understand it, and help those with it so we can end it. We need to continue to better understand addiction so we know how to stay connected and supportive of those battling it.

In order to further your understanding I’m going to talk about relapse, and even more importantly, I’m going to talk about how to identify several warning signs of relapse.

What is relapse? And when does relapse occur?

Relapse is a process, not a single event. 

It's an addict’s return to the addiction cycle or worse.  Clinically, relapse is the physical act of someone in recovery putting alcohol/drugs into their body. That length of sobriety could have been one day or fifty years but when that substance enters their body the sobriety clock resets. As I said though, relapse is a process and just as anyone in addiction will tell you they didn’t wake up one day and choose to be an addict. No one in recovery just stops and says “today’s the day I return to rock bottom.”  The process can be short and in earlier sobriety it might only be a month or a few weeks but more often it’s slow with several elements occurring subtly over time.

What are the relapse warning signs?

There are several different warning signs but in order to make them easy to remember I want you think of AA. Alcoholics anonymous is most known for its’ ties with helping those in addiction fight for recovery so it’s perfect that the warning signs of future relapse can be broken down into two categories; Attitudes and Actions (AA).

1. Attitudes

One of biggest warning signs I see – especially in early sobriety – is overconfidence. It’s the string of thoughts and sometimes outright statements that imply “I know everything I need to know” and “I can do this on my own.” Don’t get me wrong, having a sense of confidence and pride in what you’ve learned in treatment and/or meetings is powerful (and needed). However, when someone in recovery stops being willing to accept the support, advice or accountability of others there should be some red flags and alarms going off.

Another major warning sign of relapse is when someone in recovery becomes emotionally overloaded. More often than not this occurs as a reaction to an event like a job loss, afamily member passing away or a relationship ending, however medication changes and existing mental illness (like depression or bipolar) can also be a cause. These intense emotional moments will look like an exaggerated departure from the person in recovery’s normal emotional state. This could look like anxiety turning into panic, sadness shifting to grief or anger becoming rage.

2. Actions

One of the biggest warning signs at any point in recovery is Isolation. For any number of reasons, many in addiction put distance between those around them before relapse; this includes family, friends, loved ones, etc. This could be subtle like missing/skipping scheduled meetings or events like lunch dates, support group meetings, or work. It might also be more confrontational like lashing out or manipulating conversation in a manner that makes you feel as if you want/need to leave.

The last major warning sign relates more to inaction than action and can best be described as a general lack of self-care. A few examples of this could be eating poorly, exercising less or not at all, and/or maintaining unhealthy sleeping patterns. You might also notice that the person in recovery has a decreased interest in engaging in the activities or hobbies that you know they enjoy. This is especially important to notice because in addition to being a warning sign of future relapse it could also be an early sign of depression.

What do I do once I've seen the signs of addiction relapse?

Whether you’ve just seen one of them or all of them, you simply reach out. There are several ways to treat addiction but each of them starts with a conversation where you offer your ear and your heart. They might not be ready to share their thoughts or feelings with you at the moment but by keeping the conversation and the support open-ended, they will know they are loved and that someone else is willing to fight Addiction alongside them.

To schedule an appointment with Kendall Campbell, LMFT-Associate, Call 512-920-3654.

Logo Only Small.jpg

The Practice ATX


What is Addiction, Really?

Image by Airpix on  Flickr

Image by Airpix on Flickr

What is addiction like?

Addiction is like the matrix. You remember Morpheus, sitting in front of Neo asking him to take the red pill, or the blue one? People who suffer from addiction eventually feel like whatever substance their addicted to becomes their entire world. Heroin. Cocaine. Alcohol – all of these substances become the world pulled over their eyes to blind them from the truth. What truth? That they’re in pain. Or that they’ve experienced trauma. Or that life outside of their substance is very, very hard. Put simply, addiction is a process that occurs when a person becomes dependent on a substance to self-medicate emotion, pain, loss, stress, trauma boredom or other challenges.

We often talk about addiction and it's relation to drugs, video games, gambling, food or sex. Some would say you could be addicted to any of those items and others might disagree.

Regardless of what form you believe addiction takes, one fact will always remain; Addiction sucks. It’s an epidemic in our country and affects the lives of millions of people. Surprisingly, we tend to avoid talking about it. Sure, you hear about addiction on the news and see addicted people in movies and TV but when it comes to everyday conversation, we don’t talk about it, because maybe…we don’t know what to say.

Why don't we talk about addiction?

Like other forms of mental illness, it’s a stigma. We don’t talk about addiction because it often hits too close to home and brings up feelings of hurt, guilt, shame and sometimes embarrassment. But when we avoid talking about addiction, we isolate the people who need to be heard and we continue to create silence where we should be creating connection. There’s an estimated 23 million people battling drug and alcohol addiction in the United States alone. That’s about one out of every 10 people and damn close to the total population of Texas. T

o be honest, until I started working as a therapist at an addiction treatment center, I didn’t realize how far-reaching this illness spread, nor did I have a comprehensive understanding of how it affected addicted persons’ support systems.

Addiction needs to be discussed and normalized so that those affected by it feel safe to seek comfort from their friends, family and those around them when they need help. As a society, we can help bring addiction to its knees if we simply take a few minutes to educate ourselves about it.

What does addiction look like? Who does addiction target?

Addiction looks like a disease; like HIV, diabetes or cancer. While researchers and medical professionals are still unsure whether addiction should be classified as a disease, it seems to operate like one. Just like diabetes, addiction may be genetic, meaning your family history may increase your risk of addiction.

Like HIV, there is no magic pill or vaccine to cure it, only ways to manage it. Like cancer, treating addiction early is best to prevent worse outcomes. And finally, like any of the diseases mentioned already, anyone can be affected. Addiction does not discriminate between race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, economic status or even astrological sign. Addiction can affect anyone.

Why addiction is NOT a choice

No one chooses illness. This is true of addiction, just like it's true for other health challenges. While addiction usually begins with someone choosing a substance, the powerlessness over that substance isn't something anyone wants for themselves. It's a mental health challenge.

For someone in addiction, that first use stirs something up within them. It begins the phenomenon known in the 12-step community as the mental obsession.

The mental obsession is the notion that you have just found something [a substance] that has solved the answer to all your questions. Experiencing chronic pain? Here, take this, viola! All better! Tired of feeling alone, disconnected, awkward, anxious, fearful, angry, misunderstood, victimized, abused and/or unwanted? Not anymore you’re not. Suddenly – if only for a short time – you’re fixed!

But there’s a problem. The “fix” is only temporary.

Even when another option is provided, like therapy or medication, and problems start to disappear, an addicted person still poses the question of “Okay this is working, but what would happen if I drink now?”

How bad can addiction get?

When it gets really bad, drugs and alcohol become more than just a substance to be put in the body, they become the person’s identity; one, which overrides all other priorities like friends, family, and loved ones. Sometimes, the addict will still hear pleas to stop and calls of action to seek help, but feel powerless to do anything about it. This is because at that point the substance is no longer pleasurable, but rather it’s just a means to avoid, distract and/or numb problems and survive.  

The vicious cycle only begins to compound itself. Addicts will start to feel emotions like shame, guilt and misery even when using, knowing as well that the substance that once saved them, the substance that became ingrained into their identity, is now killing them and they have no means to stop it.  

It's at this point (hopefully) that they become, what those in recovery say, desperate for the psychic change. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Treatment can start sooner.

What else does addiction impact?

There’s so much to consider when it comes to addiction. Over the next month, I’ll be going more in depth about addiction and answering questions like, how does Addiction impact the family? How does Addiction affect marriage? And most importantly, how is Addiction treated? I hope you all enjoyed this post and I look forward to seeing your reactions and comments.

To schedule an appointment with Kendall Campbell, LMFT-Associate, call 512-920-3254.

Logo Only Small.jpg

The Practice ATX