There are two noticeable changes that occur in an addict on the path to relapse. They are changes in attitude and changes in behavior.
Changes in Attitude
Changes in attitude are a red flag that one is on the relapse road and will require relapse prevention plan. A person may:
- Stop caring about recovery, and it fades into the background. The addict may still attend AA meetings, but the frequency may lessen, or negative attitudes toward these groups may develop. They may say to themselves: “I’ve tried my best, but recovery just really isn’t working out for me.”
- Have a negative attitude about life and others: “I’ll never be happy. Everyone else seems to be able to, but it’s just too much work for me.” They may have negative attitudes towards “normies.” They want to “be happy” and have “things work out” without a clear definition of what that means. They don’t know or haven’t investigated what’s necessary for happiness to even occur. They may begin to use “magical thinking.” They dream of magic wands and miracles where their problems are solved without having to put forth any effort. They dream of being “rescued from it all.” They develop an “I don’t care” attitude. They begin to feel that they might as well be using since life is so miserable anyway. Life feels just as unmanageable now, if not more than when they were drinking.
- Decide the addiction can be handled on his or her own and stop asking for help.
Changes in Behavior
All of these changes in thoughts, feelings, and attitudes culminate in behavioral changes. The addict may ultimately show display the following changes:
- Discontinue meetings or any recovery, for example, group or individual therapy. They become complacent, a huge red flag.
- Begin isolating and stop participating in any activities.
- Become too busy. Addicts have a way of exchanging one addiction for another. He or she may become overly entrenched in work, hobbies, their kids, etc. They may become addicted to gambling, shopping, exercise, sex, etc. They display compulsivity and rigidity in the way they think or behave. Many people don’t realize overinvolvement in AA, or other support groups are part of this compulsivity and a red flag. They might be model AA members, chair meetings, go daily, spend copious amounts of time on 12-step work, or act like the residential therapist in their group therapy. However, social contact outside these groups is limited or nonexistent.
- Display impulsive behavior. They are like leaves blowing aimlessly around in the wind, and they act on their whims without thinking about any consequences. They may make extravagant purchases, changes in their appearance, make poor relationship decisions, etc.
The relapse road will be different for each person. There is no “set progression.” It’s not necessary to display all of the above signs to be in relapse. I want to drive home the idea that relapse doesn’t begin with taking that first drink or drug! It’s a process, and fortunately, there are signs before the addict is back to using. Relapse may begin hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before he or she even begins using again. Even if you are in relapse, it doesn’t mean you have to take that first drink or drug. This is when you ask for help from your sponsor, therapist, doctor, or friend. Nip it in the bud now.
It’s up to each individual to identify what those signs are. This is a guide to help you pinpoint them. I’ve had a relapse, and it’s not pretty. If I’d been armed with the above information, it might never have occurred.