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Relapse Warning Signs

Addiction Recovery: How to Prevent the Relapse Cycle from Taking Hold

Psychologists and addiction treatment centers no longer regard relapse as the exception but as a very part of the recovery process. Addiction is a lifelong condition that is not curable but that is treatable. This means that relapse is always a possibility and, as years of data suggest, is a probable process the recovering addict is likely to experience.

Addiction therapists no longer regard relapse as a catastrophe. In all likelihood, the addict is more inclined to view relapse as a "personal weakness" than the therapist. Psychology today emphasizes that addiction affects the brain, and it can take a long time to get the brain back to its normal functionality.

The patient's relapse should not be regarded as a flaw in the rehabilitation treatment or as a personality defect, but rather as a likely outcome in a process trying to manage the powerful symptoms of drug and/or alcohol addiction.

Most rehab programs today include preparation for relapse possibilities. This includes developing action plans when symptoms begin to erupt and when physical relapse actually occurs.

The Addiction Relapse Process

Therapists encourage recovering addicts to understand that relapse is a process. The process has three stages:

Emotional Relapse - Common signs of emotional relapse include anxiety, intolerance, anger, defensiveness, abrupt mood swings and a return to isolationist behavior. The addict invariably will stop attending meetings, have difficulty sleeping and may change his or her eating habits.

Mental Relapse - At this stage, the brain struggles to overcome a propensity to relapse while the sufferer finds himself or herself thinking about "using" much of the time. Mental relapse begins when the addict occasionally thinks about it. At the end of this stage, the addict is consumed with thoughts about using.

The signs of mental relapse are:

  • Embellishing the joy that used to be experienced while using.
  • Secretive behavior.
  • Constantly thinking about relapsing.
  • Strategizing plans to relapse.

Physical Relapse - If the addict has entered the emotional and mental relapse stages and support has not been sought, physical relapse will occur. Once the mental relapse has taken hold, physical relapse is nearly impossible to reverse without detoxification and withdrawal therapy. The key to preventing physical relapse is to recognize the symptoms of emotional and mental relapse and pursue the therapy needed to halt the process in midstream.

One of the greatest misconceptions about addiction therapy is that recovery is not solely about ceasing use. Successful recovery is about creating a new lifestyle where it is easier not to use. The idea behind the new lifestyle is to rid the addict of the contributing, stimulating elements that surround addiction.

One of the most common themes of addiction therapy is promoting the concept known as H.A.L.T.

  • H - Hungry
  • A - Angry
  • L - Lonely
  • T - Tired

Most addicts suffer the strongest cravings at the end of the day. This is when physical relapse is most likely to occur. Try not to be hungry. Develop techniques to ease your anger and stress. Having a spouse or companion does not mean you cannot be lonely. Develop social skills with people who are good influences. Develop good sleep routines and, if necessary, seek counseling to improve your sleep technique.

During treatment, addicts learn to limit their exposure to high risk situations. In a controlled environment, surrounded by support, abstinence is easier than in one's day-to-day existence. Recognizing the signs of emotional and mental relapse can help the addict address the possibility of physical relapse before it occurs.

Recognizing and Managing Early Relapse Symptoms

During emotional relapse, recovering addicts are trained to see the symptoms. When the patient is anxious, enduring mood swings or becoming isolationist, it is time to act. If sleep becomes difficult or the addict's dietary habits change, it is time to seek assistance and/or counseling. Attend more aftercare classes, discuss your symptoms with a caregiver. Reach out for help. If unabated, these symptoms will give way to mental relapse.

Persons suffering emotional relapse need to change their behavior, avoid the triggers and manage their lives more attentively. Exercise is a good therapy, but the best treatment is professional help before the condition worsens.

Recovering addicts must always practice self-care but must never be afraid to reach out for support. Part of self-care is implementing a reward system.

How to Prevent Relapse

Treatment teaches addicts the identifiable risks that certain people, places and events pose. These risks are lifelong threats to recovery.

There are other concrete, healthy lifestyle choices recovering addicts can make:

  • Eat healthy.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Develop a healthy hobby.
  • Avoid high risk situations.
  • Avoid users.
  • Continue aftercare classes.
  • Learn to relax without using.

One of the easiest ways to combat relapse is to commit to an honest, straightforward lifestyle. Being secretive and lying are symptoms of addiction. If you are always honest, you and your friends and loved ones will be able to help you with recovery.

Successful recovery is based upon honesty with yourself and those around you. If the addict finds himself or herself beginning to be dishonest or starting to lie, the recovery is broken and in need of repair.

Changing Your Life

Changing one's life is not an easy undertaking. There are many steps to this process. Individual and group counseling are steps in the recovery and rebuilding process. Recovery is a second chance to enjoy life.

Relapse is an unfortunate effect of recovery. Relapse takes an emotional and physical toll on the addict and on those around the addict. The addict's support network is obligated to address any warning signs of emotional, mental and physical relapse.

Successful rehabilitation includes relapse prevention strategies and a pro-active supply network. By this point, friends, co-workers, family and employers are less likely to enable the recovering addict. The good news is that a study from Harvard reports that relapse is much less likely after five years of abstinence. The Harvard study tracked 268 Harvard undergrads and 456 non-delinquent inner-city adolescents. 21 percent of the Harvard undergrads and 33 percent of the inner city adolescents met the criteria for alcohol addictions. The study concluded that after 5 years of abstinence, relapse is rare.

Recovering addicts and persons in their support network can learn a lot about recovery and triggers from relapse. Because recovery is a multi-faceted approach to abstinence, stumbling is often a part of the learning experience.

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