Understanding Relapse and Recognizing the Signs

Relapse – a word that we hear often when we enter recovery. We can relapse into old behaviors and actions, even our thinking can go back to our old ways of lying and manipulation before we pick up a drink or a drug. When coming into recovery, we realize that we must change everything, from our thinking, behaviors and especially our actions. How can we understand what happens before a relapse?

Old Behaviors and Relapse

Our behaviors when we enter recovery still lack even if we may be physically sober. Our behaviors are patterns that we continuously did tend to get us in trouble, and we didn’t understand why. We don’t give much thought to our actions; we usually don’t see anything wrong with it because we’ve been doing these behaviors for so long. The other part of why we continue to do these behaviors is that we get something out of doing them.

We may not realize our patterns when it comes to our behaviors. Recognizing our patterns is something that comes with awareness. It requires us to look at ourselves from an outside perspective. Needing a different perspective is a reason why rehab is so important. Treatment allows us to start to get down to the root of our problems so we can begin to learn how to change them. Learning how to change our behaviors and our patterns is an essential part of our recovery.

Most of us struggling from substance use disorders need to have a clinical approach to our recovery in the beginning in conjunction with a 12 step program. Having both a clinical and a recovery-based perspective gives us the chance to take a hard look at ourselves. From a clinical standpoint, we can work through therapy to help us change our thought patterns, which are where our behaviors start. From trusted people in our sober supports like our sponsor, or people that we are in sober living with that can call us out on our behaviors. Your sponsor will also take you through the steps and show you how to get through some of your character defects to get out of poor behavioral patterns. We can then use or new therapy techniques to have continued success with changing negative behaviors.

Manipulation and Relapse

When we’re using and drinking, we often manipulate our friends and family without realizing it. Whether it be through lying, which is manipulation or executing a plan to get what you want, addicts and alcoholics are master manipulators. When we enter recovery we still manipulate and lie, it may be less frequent and less blatant, but manipulation is a hard behavior to spot when we’re accustomed to operating that way.

Learning how to spot manipulation in ourselves is difficult, that is why we need others to help point it out in us. When we begin ignoring the signs of manipulation or get caught in lies and rationalize why we lied, it puts us in a dangerous position with self-deception. Falling into patterns of justification and rationalization is a red flag of old behaviors and not taking responsibility for our actions. All of these behaviors are signs of a relapse.

Granted, there will be times when we will have a brief slip while learning how to live life differently. There is no such thing as a perfect human being. The most significant sign of progress comes when we have the awareness on our own that we were displaying behaviors, or our thinking was becoming warped, and we did something to change it. There may be times when we don’t realize it, but if someone points it out, we change our behavior and make any amends necessary for the negative behaviors. This is where growth happens in breaking our negative patterns.

Self-Deception and Relapse

When we start deceiving ourselves, we are in the dangerous territory of a relapse. Self-deception is one of the darkest places an addict or alcoholic can find themselves. When we begin to deceive ourselves, every bad decision, action or thought can be rationalized and justified or minimized, so it isn’t deemed “as bad” by ourselves anymore.

Self-deception is part of a mental and emotional relapse, which are two of the stages of relapse. All of our old behaviors, patterns, and thinking come back. We begin to repress the things that we were taught in the fellowship or in therapy. We may not even realize that these seemingly small differences are the beginning of relapse and will deny that is what is happening. When we notice that we are acting or thinking differently, these are our old defense mechanisms coming out. Whether these mechanisms are sparked by a certain event like the death of a loved one or problems with mental health, we begin to revert to our old ways. Having our support group or therapist there to point out these behaviors is crucial at this point to help us maintain our sobriety.

5 Common Defense Mechanisms

These defense mechanisms aren’t healthy, but you may notice that you are employing them in order to not deal with what’s going on with you mentally and emotionally. If you notice that any of these signs are occurring, make sure you reach out to someone.

  1. Denial – refusal to accept reality or a fact like a painful event, thought or feeling doesn’t exist. Denial is one of the easiest defense mechanisms that we employ. For example: “a functioning alcoholic” is in denial.
  2. Regressiontaking the position of a child in the face of problematic situations. Such as being stressed and instead of dealing with the situation, you resort to laying in bed all day and not engaging in normal activities.
  3. Acting out – this can be any extreme behavior to express a thought or feeling that you feel incapable of expressing in a normal manner. Acting out can range from a child having a temper tantrum to self-harm. Being unable to express emotions and funneling them into extreme behavior to gain an emotional release.
  4. Dissociation – this is a mental process that causes a lack of connection in thoughts, memory, and sense of identity. There is a scale for dissociation that depends on severity. While most people daydream or get “lost” in a book, others suffer to the point of what is now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder
  5. Compartmentalization – This is a subconscious defense mechanism to avoid mental discomfort from having differing values. Compartmentalization allows the conflicting ideas to co-exist while they’re not integrated. A good example is when kids act out in school, and then at home are perfect children, they compartmentalize the two values of what is and isn’t okay to do.

These defense mechanisms are all a sign of relapse because a relapse begins before you pick up a drug or a drink.

The 3 Stages of Relapse

A relapse is a culmination of events, behaviors, and emotions. While at first, we may not realize that these are signs of a relapse, they put us on a bad track to return to active addiction and drinking. There are 2 other steps before a physical relapse and resuming drug or alcohol use.

  1. Emotional Relapse – Often described in the fellowships as becoming restless, irritable and discontent. Some of the symptoms of an emotional relapse are anxiety, anger, defensiveness, not asking for help, not going to meetings, poor sleeping habits, and isolation. At the point of an emotional relapse, we usually aren’t thinking about using. It’s a focus on our emotions and how we aren’t emotionally stable or are acting out in old behaviors.
    Self-care comes into play to take care of ourselves emotionally. Making sure that we aren’t deflecting our problems or neglecting our self-care to keep in good emotional shape is a way to prevent emotional relapse. In turn, if we recognize these behaviors we need to reach out for help to change them.
  2. Mental Relapse – A mental relapse usually takes hold after the emotional relapse has already been occurring. Or they can occur seemingly simultaneous because we don’t have enough awareness to separate what is emotional and what is mental at this point. Signs of a mental relapse may include: cravings for drugs and alcohol, minimizing consequences from past use, romanticizing drug use, bargaining with yourself about using, scheming to control using, and planning a relapse. Mental relapse can be made worse by experiencing euphoric recall. Which can trigger your mental relapse without you realizing it by bringing up only good memories of use.
  3. Physical Relapse – Sometimes referred to as a “lapse” which is the initial or an isolated incident of use, and a “relapse” is referred to as the return to uncontrollable use. The act of consuming drugs or alcohol is the physical relapse. Most people are ill-equipped to say no at this point if they have already been struggling with mental and emotional relapse.
    Most physical relapses are a relapse of opportunity. A relapse of opportunity occurs when a person believes they have the opportunity to use and get away with it, or when they are presented with drugs or alcohol and don’t have a proper exit strategy together.

Understanding Relapse

There are multiple factors to relapse, while most people don’t see the underlying factors that play into a relapse and only see the physical relapse. When we are educated about what leads up to relapse, it gives us and those around us the chance to call us out on these warning signs if we are unable to distinguish them on our own. Relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your journey, relapses do happen, but they are preventable when we are properly equipped to handle them.

If you or a loved one are struggling after a relapse, contact us today at 855-448-3588. You can overcome a relapse; we can show you how to achieve long lasting sobriety.