In sobriety, there is always a fear of the dreaded relapse. Am I going to screw this up? Will I end up back where I was?
In fact, according to Alcohol.org, 40-60% of us will relapse at some point in our recovery. The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to be one of them. The even better news is that even if, like me, you’ve already had a relapse, it doesn’t mean you have to go through one again.
What Is Relapse?
This could be considered an issue of semantics, but it’s important to distinguish between a slip and relapse. A slip is a mistake or one, maybe two, time(s) thing.
It’s accidentally taking a swig of rum in the piña colada you explicitly requested non-alcoholic. That’s not your fault and if you left it at that, you’ve had an unfortunate accident but it doesn’t have to mean anything else. Your sobriety is still intact.
Then there’s the kind of slip that IS your fault. It’s having a glass or two of wine at your sister’s wedding and now you’re racked with guilt. Whether or not you decide that your sobriety has to restart is entirely up to you, honestly. That’s not important.
What IS important is that you treat it with the seriousness it deserves and immediately contact your sponsor or support person and put some serious mental work into understanding why you had that drink. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for a relapse.
A relapse is returning to active addiction or drinking (whatever word you want to use for it). It’s diving right back into the lifestyle you spent so much hard work escaping.
11 Warning Signs You’re Headed For A Relapse
Listen, if you thought getting sober was tough the first time, just WAIT until you have to try again after an extended period of sobriety. It sucks. It’s way harder. And I do not want that for you or your loved ones.
Here are eleven signs you should look out for. I’ve pulled a lot from www.alcohol.org, www.addictionsandrecovery.org, and Next Steps Therapy which I will provide article links to at the bottom of this article.
1. You’re struggling to deal with difficult emotions.
Your emotions feel severe. You’re overwhelmed by depression, anxiety, or grief and you no longer feel like you have any control over your internal world. In short, you’re spiraling. It feels like too much and you don’t know how much more you can take.
How To Manage
First thing’s first. Do not drink. It’s possible that these emotions are a result of post-acute withdrawal symptoms. They are raw, they are difficult, but they will pass. What you need right now is support. Contact your sponsor, support coach, or counselor. If you do not have one, get one immediately.
Drinking is not going to solve any of these emotional problems. In fact, it will only exacerbate them. Drinking and mental health problems do not mix well.
Now that you’ve stripped away your chemical crutch, shit’s getting real and you don’t feel like you can do this. I get it. You CAN, and you need help to do it. Reach out. It will be okay.
2. You aren’t handling life’s ups and downs well.
Your recovery has been going good up to this point. You’ve got your tools, your routine, and your support systems in place. Everything is fantastic! Until it isn’t.
Life is going to throw us curveballs whether we are drinking or not, but you’re having trouble accepting that right now. Maybe it’s the first time you’re dealing with a lot of this stuff without alcohol and it’s testing your resolve.
Your landlord is giving you a hard time. Maybe your boss is a total asshole. More seriously, you just experienced a breakup.
All those old, familiar emotions are flooding back. You can’t do this. You can’t handle this. Everybody else gets to go to happy hour after work to deal with their boss being a dick. Why can’t you?
As a matter of fact, if your boyfriend/girlfriend thinks they can walk away, just wait and see what happens! You’ll start drinking again and punish them for causing you pain. It’s their fault honestly.
How To Manage
All of that is a big old lie and you need to snap out of it quick.
Is getting shitfaced at the bar going to improve a single thing about your work situation? Do you think your boss is going to find out you fell off the wagon because she’s an awful monster and actually change her behavior?
Or what about your now-ex? Who are you REALLY punishing by returning to your addiction? One of two things is going to happen. You’re going to start drinking again and make everything worse, OR you’re going to emotionally manipulate your ex into getting back with you and, once again, make everything worse.
If you’re desperate and thinking the last option isn’t so bad, you are wrong and you need to stop it.
You will notice a theme throughout this piece when it comes to managing a potential relapse, but the BEST thing you can do right now is to stop, take some deep breaths, and get in touch with your support systems ASAP.
Things are hard for you right now and you’re barely hanging on. Ask for help.
3. You’re overconfident.
De’nile ain’t just a river in Egypt, my friend. If you think you got this sobriety thing down pat and you could never, ever, ever, relapse, I got some bad news for you.
People with twenty years of sobriety and access to better resources than you and I have fallen victim to relapse, often with deadly consequences. This is not a game.
I am GLAD that you feel good right now. I do too. I can’t imagine any circumstance that would compel me to drink, and YET, I continue to work on my progress every single day. Nobody is immune from slipping back into destructive habits and behaviors.
I’m not suggesting you walk around on pins and needles, constantly afraid of a relapse, but I AM suggesting you stay rooted in reality. You always need to remain vigilant against emotional triggers and circumstances that could impact your beautiful, new life.
How To Manage
Have a slice of this humble pie.
4. You’ve lost your commitment to recovery.
You’re just not that into it anymore. The meetings? Snooze-fest. Counseling? It’s not doing it for you. In fact, you’ve already started skipping some meetings and appointments. You have better things to do with your time.
This mindset is exactly how people fall back into old patterns and ways of behaving, which inevitably leads back to drinking.
How To Manage
Take an honest look at WHY you’re feeling this way. Has something about the meetings changed for you? If it’s the same as it’s always been, what about you seems different? Has your mood or attitude changed?
Maybe your current counselor isn’t a good fit. Can you schedule with someone else?
Figure out what is turning you off of your recovery plan and commit to handling it. There is no rule that you can’t update your recovery plan or support systems throughout your life, but you cannot abandon them altogether either.
Speak with a sponsor or recovery friend about how you’re feeling and force yourself to keep your commitments while you work through this process.
5. You’re visiting your former drinking spots and hanging with old drinking buddies again.
If you find yourself dipping your toe back in the local watering hole, red flags should be popping up everywhere. In fact, if you find yourself returning to any old patterns formerly associated with your drinking, please understand that you are test-driving your relapse right now.
Of course, I’m not suggesting you can never go back to the ole pub or see your drinking pals again. This isn’t that.
If you’re trying to finagle your way back into your old drinking world, chances are you WILL join in and end up right back where you started.
How To Manage
What’s pulling you back to this place and these people? What’s missing that you’re trying to fill? You need to reach out to your support systems, check in with friends and family who are supportive of your recovery and get to the bottom of what has you stalking your old stomping ground like some creepy ex.
6. You’ve got a major attitude change and it’s not a good one.
You used to be very gung ho about this whole recovery thing. You went to meetings and therapy sessions. Every day, you stuck to your routine. You were a shining star in your Facebook Group.
But that pep in your step? It’s gone.
It feels like it’s getting replaced with resentment and bitterness. You don’t want to attend these meetings anymore. Counseling? Why should you have to keep doing this? NORMAL people don’t have to do this stuff? In fact, it’s pissing you off that you’re still doing this shit.
You’re beginning to hate all of it.
How To Manage
Figure out what’s changed or what’s going on with you that might be contributing to this attitude change. Did something happen? Are you dealing with some depression right now?
Even though it runs contrary to EVERYTHING you’re feeling right now, reach out to your support systems, even if hate all of them. I guarantee you somebody in your group, your sponsor, or counselor knows exactly what you’re going through.
People have been where you are right now and got through it. Let them help you.
7. Your routine is starting to change.
In your early sobriety days, you had a whole new routine geared towards health and wellness down to a science. You made some critical lifestyle changes and completely restructured your day and free time in ways that supported your sobriety and longterm goals.
But now? Things are slipping.
You’re skipping meals. Maybe you’re going to bed later or sleeping in till noon. That cool cycling class you’ve been keeping up with? You haven’t gone in two weeks.
Whereas we’re all guilty of skipping workouts or ignoring an alarm here and there, it should be taken as another warning sign if you’re falling out of your new routine completely.
When we start giving up the things that are good for us, we naturally gravitate back towards things that are not. In this case, drinking.
How To Manage
Pay more attention to your routine and force yourself to recommit to this new lifestyle. If you feel like you can’t, you’re resentful of your life all of the sudden, or angry about eating well or getting up early, there’s something deeper going on there that you need to address.
Check in with your support systems right away.
8. You feel out of control.
If you are experiencing extreme overwhelm and hopelessness right now, for whatever reason, you are at risk of relapse. If you don’t get a handle on what’s causing you to feel this way, you may find yourself giving in and getting wasted just to feel better.
Extreme emotional fluctuations are serious. Ask for help. Rely on your support systems and don’t try to white knuckle your way through it.
9. You’re romanticizing your drinking days.
Have you caught yourself feeling a bit nostalgic lately? Are you frequently engaging in conversations with others (or yourself), reminiscing over the wine-filled girl’s trip to Italy or the raucous Hurricane-fueled New Orleans trip last March?
Do you find yourself longing for a nice, stiff drink and a cigarette on the patio?
If so, you’re in a bit of trouble, my friend.
There is nothing good awaiting you at the end of this trip down Memory Lane. Nothing. Nada.
We often start fantasizing about our drinking days when our current life is lacking the thrill and satisfaction we want out of it. Maybe you’re bored. Or perhaps you feel like you’re missing out on all the boozy adventures your friends are having without you.
It could also be that you think you’ve got this “problem” beat and can start drinking moderately. Whatever the case, this is something you need to deal with, and FAST.
How To Manage
Whenever I find myself thinking fondly of my drinking days, I remind myself what happened AFTER the good part. Sure, the first few puffs on a cigarette and sips of a drink feel AWESOME. Like, really, really, really good.
And then after a while, you start to feel congested. You’re maybe coughing a little. What started off as engaging, riveting whiskey conversation is devolving into messy, foolishness. In fact, you’re having an out-of-body experience where you’re running your mouth a mile a minute, telling people things they have no business (or interest) in knowing.
Whoa. Is that your phone? Who are you messaging right now? Oh, the ex! Smart.
It’s later in the night and your head is spinning. You just threw up and are now shoveling nachos into your mouth because, why not? Caught a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, and YIKES! No matter. The party won’t stop!
Until bedtime and you have the spins. So. Bad. You’ve lost count of how many times you have thrown up and in the morning you know you’ll have the hangover from hell.
Do the good ole days still seem good?
10. You’re pushing people away.
You’re not entirely sure why, but your friends and family are getting on your nerves. Everyone who has been there for you and supported your sobriety is annoying you. If your cousin, who picked you up from rehab, sends you another “Hey! How you feeling!” message on What’sApp you’re going to scream!
In fact, you’ve already started ignoring a lot of these people and are spending more time alone. You don’t respond in a timely manner to your mom when she reaches out and you’ve set your phone to Do Not Disturb so that Anthony from boot camp can’t reach you when it’s time for class.
If you find yourself rejecting your friends and family, it can be a sign that you’re preparing to relapse. Whether you realize it or not, distancing yourself from the people who are most supportive of your sobriety and wellness is freeing yourself up to go back to the bad habits and people of your previous life.
It’s like breaking up with someone because they’re just too nice and going back to your douchebag ex. In other words, you’re self-sabotaging.
How To Manage
For whatever reason, you’re acting like you don’t deserve positive people in your life right now and that’s something you need to work through. Recognize that this could be a sign you’re about to mess up and ask for help.
11. You’re becoming self-absorbed.
Early on in sobriety, you were actively participating in and supporting your recovery brothers and sisters. You volunteered. You even offered to housesit for your sister and take care of her cat while she was away.
Not so much.
These days you have nothing to talk about that doesn’t revolve around you and your feelings. In fact, you rarely think of much else. These feelings you can’t escape? They aren’t good ones.
You’re disappointed with your life. You feel bored. You’re not happy. Nothing is going the way you want it to go. You had a vision for your life up to this point and you haven’t lived up to it.
It’s gotten to the point now, if someone tries to talk to you about their stuff, you expertly manage to turn the conversation around back onto you and your sad feelings.
This is exactly the kind of unrelenting pity-party that drove you to drink in the past and you’re at it again. How long before you decide you’ve had enough and give up your sobriety?
How To Manage
It sounds like you’re dealing with some depression right now and should act accordingly. If you’re not already seeing a mental health specialist or therapist, find one now. If your options are limited due to access, try an online source like Talkspace.
I guarantee that whatever you would spend on getting trashed on the regular would be much more than the cost of online therapy. Give it a try.
A Final Word On Relapse
If you found yourself nodding your head “yes” to any of these warning signs, you need to take it seriously. I’m not suggesting there is a five-alarm fire in your life, but there could be some smoke.
You’ve worked incredibly hard to get to this point. Even if you’ve only been sober one week or one day, you put in some serious effort to get there. It’s not worth giving up so easily.
Sobriety and recovery are hard. No two days are alike. The important thing is to have your support system in place and to recognize the warning signs that you may be headed for a huge mistake. If you feel you need immediate help, please reach out to an alcohol support line.
As always, if you’d like more support, we have an incredible, private Soberish Facebook Group you are welcome to join.
I am rooting for you!
If you’re struggling and don’t know where to turn, please contact a dedicated addiction hotline for support and resources.
Relapse Resources From The Article: