How to Easily Recognize Drug Relapse Warning Signs & Symptoms

Last Updated: Sep 8th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

How to Easily Recognize Drug Relapse Warning Signs & Symptoms

Many people relapse at least once on the journey from addiction to long-term recovery, and some will relapse several times. Learning to recognize your personal drug relapse warning signs, in order to take immediate action, is one of the best ways to help yourself maintain sobriety. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), the relapse rate for people with substance abuse disorders is estimated at 40 to 60 percent. 

What is a Drug Relapse?

Addiction is a chronic illness, and staying on track isn’t easy, especially during early recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that relapse rates for addiction are similar to those for other chronic diseases, including asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes. People are most vulnerable to relapse during the first few months, but relapse can happen any time, even after years of abstinence. 

A drug or alcohol relapse isn’t a good thing, but addiction recovery is a constant learning process; it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or that treatment hasn’t worked. However, it’s essential to assume responsibility and make the necessary changes because ignoring relapse warning signs can be dangerous.

Relapse vs. Lapse: What’s the Difference?

A lapse is a temporary slip, a mistake, or a moment of poor judgment after a period of abstinence, usually a one-time occurrence. A lapse isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean relapse is inevitable. However, it’s a sign that you need to make adjustments because a lapse can lead to full-blown relapse. 

A relapse is a return to regular use, and it isn’t a one-time occurrence. You may be using drugs only on weekends or a couple of times per week, but it’s still a relapse. The longer you allow the slide to continue, the harder it will be to get back on track. However, all is not lost, so don’t give up. Returning to sobriety is very possible. 

Drug Relapse Triggers: Relapse Warning Signs List

Relapse isn’t something that happens suddenly or all at once, and relapse warning signs may show up several weeks or months before you start using drugs again. If you learn to recognize the signs that your recovery may be slipping, you can make necessary changes to stay on track. 

Signs of Drug Relapse

For instance, you may be at risk of relapse if you think about using, or if you have cravings. It’s also common to experience withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, depression, or memory loss, which can show up when you’re experiencing more stress than usual. You may feel bored, frustrated, or lonely, or you may be angry, irritable, or resentful with no apparent reason. 

Pay attention to the relapse warning signs if your thoughts about your recovery have changed, and you aren’t reaching out for help when you need it. You may be losing interest in attending support groups, therapy sessions, or 12-Step meetings. You may feel overconfident in your recovery. You may convince yourself that you can use drugs occasionally, or that you can stop. 

If you’re isolating yourself instead of socializing with other people, including family and close friends, you may be headed towards a relapse. The same is true if you’re spending time in places you purchased or used drugs, or hanging out with friends who continue to use.

Be careful if you find that you aren’t making healthy lifestyle decisions such as eating too much junk food, ignoring personal hygiene, staying up too late, or failing to exercise regularly. As a result, you may feel exhausted, listless, or depressed. 

Recognizing Drug Relapse Symptoms in Others

If you’re worried a loved one is in danger of relapse, encourage them to seek treatment. Be patient, compassionate, and supportive. A person who is at risk may exhibit drug relapse symptoms like:  

  • Being angry or irritable much of the time
  • Having difficulties coping during times of stress
  • Sleeping a lot, or very little
  • Displaying significant changes in appetite; eats too much or not enough
  • Avoiding talking about recovery, and is angry and defensive if you mention it
  • Missing recovery meetings, therapy sessions, or support groups
  • Spending time with people who use drugs or alcohol
  • Losing interest in hobbies and activities normal found enjoyable
  • Blaming others for their problems
  • Rejecting people who are trying to help, or expect others to take care of everything
  • Withdrawing from social events and activities with family and friends

How to Prevent a Drug Relapse

Take time to consider why you want to use drugs again. Are you feeling bored or frustrated? Do you think using will lower your stress level or help you relax? Are you having self-esteem issues? If so, you may need help coping with stress and negative emotions. It may be a good time to practice (or learn) mindfulness meditation, relaxation techniques, other relapse prevention tips, or explore therapy. 

If you’re having intense cravings, it may help to know that they tend to pass in 30 minutes or less. Stay busy and keep your mind occupied until the cravings ease. 

If you’re still feeling shaky about your recovery, don’t isolate yourself. Call a sober friend and tell them you’re thinking about using, or get in touch with somebody in recovery. If you have a sponsor, give them a call. Be as honest as possible. If you share your feelings with others, you won’t feel so alone.

Practice making better choices and take steps to get back on track if you aren’t practicing healthy self-care. You’ll be more likely to feel exhausted if you aren’t sleeping enough, or you’re not exercising or eating healthy foods. If you re-establish a healthy routine, you’ll feel stronger physically and mentally, and you’ll feel more in control.   

Seek help to get back on track if you’re afraid you may relapse. Keep attending support groups or therapy sessions. If you’re in a 12-Step program, you may need to attend more frequent meetings. If you’re in treatment, you may need to step it up. For instance, if you’re going to weekly treatment sessions, you may need intensive outpatient. 

Be honest with yourself. You may not need additional treatment if you had a single lapse, but if you’ve relapsed, or if you’re worried that you may return to regular use, consider further treatment or rehab. This isn’t something you should be ashamed of, and it doesn’t mean you’re starting over again from scratch. It just means you’re taking care of yourself.

1st Step is Here for You at Every Stage of Recovery

An alcohol or drug relapse isn’t a sign of failure, but it’s an indication that you may need a hand to get back on the road to recovery. We can offer support and guidance to help you create a relapse prevention plan, identify triggers, cope with stress, and make healthier choices. Give us a call today at 855-425-4846 or contact us here for more information

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.