Recovering from Addiction: Warning Signs of Relapse

Experts in the fields of addiction and alcoholism have estimated that as many as 90% of all people who become addicted to a substance and then abstain will subsequently relapse at least one time in their life. Furthermore, a large percentage of those people will fall victim to multiple relapses – each usually with more disastrous results than the last. Consequently, relapse prevention is a serious lifelong concern for any person who is in recovery from substance abuse or alcoholism. This means that recognizing and understanding the warning signs of relapse is critical for people who are unwilling to risk their sobriety – and possibly their lives – just to use one more time.

One common myth that only serves to perpetuate relapses is that once a person has completed an addiction program such as residential inpatient treatment or intensive outpatient treatment, they have effectively been “cured” of their addiction or alcoholism. However, this is simply not the case. Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) sets in shortly after detox and can cause a wide range of symptoms for up to two years. These symptoms include depression, inability to think clearly or organize thoughts, inability to solve simple problems, inability to deal with stress, insomnia and severe cravings for drugs or alcohol. PAWS symptoms cause many in recovery to self-medicate as a form of relief.

When a person begins having difficulty coping with PAWS symptoms they often exhibit a series of behaviors that can serve as clear warning signs that a relapse is imminent without some type of intervention. Recognition of these behaviors is absolutely vital in order to properly address them:

*Withdrawal: People who are in danger of relapsing often withdraw socially – especially from other people in recovery or from family members. Self-isolation can be a problem that grows rapidly, but the recovering person might become defensive or simply deny any problem if confronted about this behavior.

*Loss of Routine: While on a downward spiral toward eventual relapse, many recovering addicts or alcoholics lose their daily routine entirely. They might sleep or eat at odd hours, find excessive reasons to shirk responsibilities or call out of work repeatedly, or otherwise change the normal patterns that are essential to maintaining recovery.

*Emotional and Intellectual Paralysis: Being unable to formulate or follow through with plans, thoughts, or feelings is a classic indicator of a possible relapse.

*Over or Under-Reaction to Stress: As a person’s recovery plan slowly degrades, their reactions to normal stress might seem extreme and disproportionate, or they might not react at all to severe stress.

*Depression: On the way to relapse people often experience a period of depression, with all of the classic signs including an inordinate amount of time spent sleeping, becoming socially withdrawn, suicidal ideations, lack of hygiene and other not-so-obvious symptoms.

*Compulsivity: Addiction is a disease of compulsion, and just prior to a relapse this may manifest itself by unhealthy obsessions with food, sex, cigarettes or tobacco, or any other fixation.

If ignored or unnoticed these warning signs will almost always lead to relapse. And because a person suffering from addiction might have difficulty addressing these signs, it’s vital that the people they are close to are aware of what the signs are and how to address them when they appear. If this sounds like you, then please call us right now. Addiction is considerably worsened by successive relapses, so the life of someone you care about may very well depend on preventing that next (or first) relapse.

About James F. Davis

James F. Davis, CAS, is a Board Certified Interventionist and the founder of Recovery First. Inc. Davis is also an expert on Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) - the leading cause of relapse among addicts and alcoholics. Mr. Davis operates a website dedicated to sufferers of Post Acute Withdrawal, and has published the first-ever survey on the condition. Davis is also the author of two upcoming books on the topics of PAWS and Adult Children of Alcoholics. You can contact Mr. Davis directly via his Google+ Page, via the Facebook page for Recovery First, or by writing to editor@recoveryfirst.org
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