Change is hard, and maintaining change can be even more difficult. The demands of life may at times outweigh the benefits of sustained change. Overwhelming feelings, such as disappointment, sadness, frustration, and/or anger may lead to the desire to numb or avoid feeling such pain. To make things more challenging, after a lapse or relapse, it is hard to terminate the harmful behavior(s) and re-gain control over maladaptive symptoms. As a result, reducing the chance for relapse is essential.
Red Flags and Early Relapse Signs: While these symptoms may differ from person to person, common flags are addressed below. Each sign or symptom can lead to a very slippery slope. It should also be noted that these red flags become more problematic when coping skills are limited, support systems are not used, and when self-care is neglected.
- Isolating from loved ones
- Loss of commitment to recovery programs
- Not taking medication and doing what you need to do to stay abstinent (e.g., attending meetings)
- Experiencing significant changes in mood
- Increased romanticizing of days when using substances
- Feeling agitated, frustrated, or tense
- Having difficulty focusing, concentrating, and maintain motivation
- Over or under-sleeping
- Telling lies to loved ones
- Consideration that one drink is OK or that one pill wouldn’t hurt
- Increased defensiveness
Lapses (a one time return to addictive behavior) or relapses (return to addictive lifestyle) are often a normal part of the recovery process. One way to pick yourself up is to reduce feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment by talking to a supportive person. If layers of guilt, shame, and embarrassment are not resolved, the risk of relapse significantly increases. Finally, asking for help or additional support during such seasons represents strength, courage, and bravery.