The long road called “Recovery” is a route many men and women who have been through drug or alcohol rehab treatment are currently treading.
Throughout their treatment they will have been told time and again of the relapse temptations that are likely to come their way, and how best to deal with them.
Many will agree that this is easier said than done, so let’s take a look at what a relapse is, some early warning signs that need to be addressed quickly, and how a loved one should react if the addict has slipped back into drug or alcohol use.
What is a relapse?
Many consider an addict to have suffered a relapse if they return to using any amount of the substance which caused addiction in the first place, others state a relapse is classified when a user returns to heavy use of the substance in question.
The medical profession considers a relapse to be a return to heavier or destructive use of that substance. This distinction is important to understand.
Taking alcohol as an example, though it is strongly discouraged, one beer on one occasion can be classed as a lapse, whereas a return to regular drinking which will cause negative consequences and put the recovering alcoholic back on the road to regular heavy drinking must be classed as a relapse.
Early signs that a relapse could be in the offing:
It is absolutely vital for those going through recovery, and if possible, those closest to them to understand signs indicating a possible relapse is nearing reality.
We will explain the importance of being alert to such signs and why early, positive action is required at the end of this section, but first let’s concentrate on the signs themselves.
If a recovering addict begins to feel or show increased anxiety, becomes far more impatient over trivial things, or finds their anger rising more quickly than expected, these can be seen as signs that a relapse is in the offing.
Many become moody, have increased problems with their sleep pattern and/or the improved diet they have been keeping. Some will make it clear they would rather spend time on their own than be in company, they may become noticeably stubborn and even refuse help that up to this point has been gratefully accepted.
They know full well what treatment recommendations should be followed, but feel rebellious and do not stick to them as well as they could, and even begin to reminisce about the past.
If this hankering to ‘re-live’ the past gets stronger, many will consider seeing friends they used to associate with when addicted to drugs or alcohol. If any of those friends are still heavily into drugs or alcohol such a meeting needs to be avoided.
Why such behavior and thoughts must be nipped in the bud:
If these early warning signs are acknowledged it will allow positive, preventative relapse action to be taken. This can be achieved by arranging an urgent appointment with their rehab counsellor. It goes without saying that the sooner such help is sought, the better.
Once these feelings are voiced the counsellor will be in a far better position to evaluate current treatment and suggest changes that will help diffuse thoughts of a relapse while progressing with recovery.
The last thing those going through recovery should do is ignore these early warning signs. By doing so they are putting all of the progress made to date at risk.
Obvious signs of a relapse:
If a recovering addict has buckled under the strong pressures felt, the signs of a relapse will be self-evident and difficult for a loved one to miss.
In terms of recovering alcoholics; if alcohol starts to go missing from home, bottles are found stashed away or empty ones placed in the trash, or they return home clearly the worse for wear due to drink it is obvious a relapse has commenced.
If drugs were the problem, keep an eye out for drug paraphernalia such as syringes/needles, excessive amounts of lighters, rubber bands, small empty plastic ‘wraps’ and even medicine missing from its usual place in the house.
Whether it be alcohol or drugs another big warning sign is the fact that money or valuables begin to disappear, or you discover that someone has accessed your bank or savings accounts.
What action to take if it is obvious a loved one has relapsed:
While this may seem a harsh thing to do you need to confront the situation head on. You need to tell them in a direct manner that you believe they are using alcohol or drugs again.
If they admit:
If they admit this, then you need to support them by arranging an appointment with their rehab counsellor or doctor as soon as possible. Once this process is set in motion there is hope that the addict will respond to renewed efforts to quit.
A recovering addict needs to be reassured that a relapse does not mean treatment has completely failed.
Yes, it is a setback, but if they are willing to persevere by recommencing treatment and counselling then you need to give them all the love and support possible.
If denial is their only response:
If they deny, and maintain denial even though it is blatantly obvious they have started to re-use then tough love has to be the order of the day with strong ultimatums given.
It is also very important that you contact their doctor or the rehab establishment they have been receiving treatment from to seek assistance.
If you do not have such detail, then get in touch with your local drug or alcohol advice centre to discuss the situation and listen to their advice.
Hopefully this last situation will not arise, but you must be prepared in the event it does.