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What? Me? Relapse? Maybe. Maybe not. Still, it is a good idea to spend some quality time thinking about addiction relapse and what we can do to strengthen our recovery. Relapse is not unusual in recovery. In fact, any one of us is at risk for relapse. Hence we need to pay attention to the warning signs, especially when things are going well, because most of us relapse when things are going well than when things are not. When we recognize the warning signs described in this pamphlet, and when we can avoid complacency about the value of Alcoholics Anonymous and aftercare, our chances of a addiction relapse-free recovery are much improved.
When we think of addiction relapse, some of us might picture a cliff. Once we step over the edge of that cliff, we may think there’s no turning back – there are no lifesaving vines to grab. But that’s simply not the case.
Addiction relapse is not unusual in recovery from chemical dependency, and any one of us is at risk for relapse. In fact, some experts think the tendency to relapse is part of the disease. If it is, then we need to pay attention to the warning signs. This pamphlet will help us not only identify the warning signs of relapse, but also to be more aware of the value of participation in Alcoholics Anonymous groups and other aftercare activities. And if we do relapse, we’ll know the consequences and how to get back into a strong and lasting recovery.
Before we read on, we should realize that we don’t have to recover alone. Through the Twelve Steps and with the help and encouragement of our peers, our attitudes can change. We learn recovery is more than just staying off alcohol and other drugs; it is becoming aware of a whole new way of life. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes this new way of life well: “We became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.”*
When we were chemically dependent, we responded in an unhealthy way to life’s problems. Recovery helps us develop healthy responses and attitudes. We learn to deal with life on life’s terms, not on the unhealthy terms dictated by our disease. Recovery is not a single event, but a long and often difficult process. It takes discipline – day in and day out – to hold on to the attitudes and actions that lead to a new life. It often feels as though the old ways and the new ways are in a fight to the death. Sometimes the old ways win out for a time – we take the drink or use the drug we swore we would never touch again. When that happens we relapse.
10 Signs of addiction relapse
A progression of signs and symptoms has usually occurred during the period of time preceding the actual drinking/using bingeing episode. Symptoms are what an individual feels or thinks. Signs are what other can observe in the individual’s behaviour.
Fear About Well-being
The person feels fear about his/her ability to maintain sobriety. Unexplained bouts of anxiety occur. Often these feelings are short-lived.
- Reactivation of Denial
In order to cope with the fear, worry and anxiety, the person returns to denial as a means of coping. Because of the nature of denial, the person is not aware of what is really happening. Usually the denial system is the same as denial used in the latter stages of the person’s addiction.
- Adamant Commitment to Sobriety
“I will never use/drink/binge/purge/starve again.” Sometimes this decision is open and blatant. More often it is not shared with others and kept privately. Once the decision is made, the urgency to maintain a daily recovery programme is diminished.
- Worrying About Other People’s Sobriety
These often are not open thoughts. They often consist of private judgements or other people’s drinking or of other people’s recovery. This keeps a person from looking carefully at his/her own problems with recovery. In AA this can be called ‘taking another person’s inventory’.
The person notices an increase in defensiveness when talking about their recovery and becomes very defensive when questioned about attendance at meetings, and even the subject of addiction relapse. Starts to put the blame on to others rather than look at themselves.
- Loss of Constructive Planning
The person stops planning ahead carefully and pays less attention to details. He/she becomes careless. Plans are based on ‘wishful thinking’ rather than on the realities of the particular situation.
- Plans Begin to Fail
Because of lack of attention to detail or because of unrealistic objectives, plans begin to fail. This increases the feelings of failure, loneliness and minor depression and increases chances of addiction relapse.
- Daydreaming and Wishful Thinking
The person becomes unable to concentrate. Fantasy becomes a way of escaping reality. ‘If only’ thinking becomes more common. There is a strong wish of being ‘rescued from it all’ by an unlikely set of circumstances.
- Feelings that Nothing can be Solved
Lack of concrete planning and escape into wishful thinking result in the feeling of failure. “Things are just not working out for me” begin to dominate one’s thoughts. Minor failures are blown out of proportion.
- Immature Wish to be Happy
The thinking and conversation becomes vague and generalized. The person wishes that he/she were happy and things would be better without even thinking and defining what ‘happy’ or ‘better’ really means.