Relapse prevention is an ongoing requirement to maintain recovery. Some will say that you will get to a place in recovery where you don’t need to “work at it” anymore—that it becomes automatic. I have known a few people who seemed to put down their drug or behavior of choice—what they were addicted to and they didn’t appear to struggle with addiction again. But, that is not my experience with addiction. I have worked with hundreds of alcoholics and addicts over the years who also were not able to “put it down” so easily.

So, one of the keys to STABLE recovery is being intentional about preventing relapse. I can’t emphasize this enough. Most people who have tried to quit and then relapsed can look back and see specific mistakes they have made (poor choices) that led to relapse but could have been avoided.

Everyone is different and the things that might lead one person to relapse may not lead you to relapse. So, I will share many possible “triggers” or “warning signs” that might lead you to relapse. You have to consider what you know about yourself and determine which will be the most dangerous for you.

Exhaustion – Allowing yourself to become overly tired can be a dangerous thing. When our body is exhausted we don’t fight off sickness as well, we make poor choices, and we put ourselves in compromising situations. Many alcoholics and addicts are prone to replacing their addiction with work. We fill our lives with busyness to keep our mind off our “drug of choice.” Eventually, exhaustion sets in and our strength in recovery leaves. Make sure you get plenty of rest.

Dishonesty – This might begin with a pattern of unnecessary little lies and deceits with fellow workers, friends, and family. It could be something as simple as denying when someone asks how you are doing and you lie to them. This could turn into more important lies to yourself. This is rationalizing -- making excuses for not doing what you do not want to do, or for doing what you know you should not do.

Impatience – Alcoholics and addicts tend to be impatient. Things just don’t happen fast enough to suit us. This can lead to many dangerous situations. Part of STABLE Recovery is learning patience.

Argumentativeness – If you find yourself arguing about small, insignificant details it might be a symptom of a relapse in your future. Some people seem to need to always be right and they often argue like this. This attitude can lead to relapse due to frustration and trying to prove that you are right. Another way argumentativeness is a symptom of a possible relapse is that it might indicate increased irritability. There could be many different causes of increased argumentativeness—you have to know yourself and listen to feedback from people you trust to know if there is a problem.

Depression – There are many reasons why depression might set in, one of the most common for people in recovery is losing their drug of choice. It might sound funny to you but it is very real. People often feel a sense of loss which can lead to depression. Some people are more prone to depression—if you know this is you I encourage you to develop some strategies to help deal with this. We all have ups and downs with our emotions. It is important in recovery to be prepared for these before they occur so we can deal with them and avoid relapse.

Frustration – There are many things that can lead to frustration. The very idea of not doing something that you really would like to be doing is enough to cause frustration in itself. Add onto that the idea that most addicts and alcoholics turn to their drug of choice to avoid feelings that are painful can also lead to frustration. When you get frustrated you are prone to make poor choices.

The main reason we talk about things that could lead to relapse is to strengthen our ability to prevent relapse. If you notice any of these in yourself or people you trust are talking with you about any of these it might be a good idea to go to a meeting or call your sponsor. Anticipating these before they happen will definitely help you avoid a problem in the future.

Self-Pity – We have a way of justifying anything (thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors) when we feel sorry for ourselves. We tend to think that whatever happens to us is worse than anything that has happened to someone else. We say things like, “why do these things happen to me?” Or, “nobody appreciates everything I am doing for them.” You see how easy it would be for me to go from either one of these statements to “I may as well get drunk.” Maybe you have already done that and can relate to what I’m saying. I know that self-pity has been a powerful force in keeping me from healthy recovery in the past. The problem with self-pity is we don’t recognize it in ourselves. We think we are justified in and have a right to feel the way we do. That is why we need to have people in our support network who we trust that can tell us when we start walking down that path.

Cockiness – We often think we have it made in the shade after a few minor victories. For example, we might walk right past the display of our favorite beer on the way to the checkout to pay for gas. “I am so good, I didn’t even think about drinking when I saw that display. My sponsor doesn’t know what he’s talking about telling me to pay at the pump rather than go inside where I might be tempted.” The problem is, after this I might feel so confident in MY abilities that I begin to disregard all advice and put myself in dangerous situations on a more regular basis. Most people is a similar situation might spend the whole night thinking about how good they did. Actually, they might really be thinking “I could drink a few and stop,” or “I can go to the bar with my friends and have fun, I don’t have to drink do I?” It’s true, you don’t have to drink in a situation like that but most people who are addicted will not be able to do it forever. I say most only because I have known a handful of people over the years who seemed to be able to be around and never be temped again. But, that is not my experience and that is not true for the hundreds of clients I have worked with. Cockiness with kill your recovery. Get feedback from people in your support network and work on humility.

Complacency – Similar to cockiness is complacency. But with complacency I think I have it covered and don’t even give it a thought. I walk right into a dangerous situation because I don’t think there is any danger. In fact I probably have been skipping some meetings and some phone calls to my sponsor. “I don’t see the need to do all those things that got me sober—I just don’t need to work at it that hard anymore. I’m good.” It may seem like a subtle difference from cockiness and truthfully, it is. But there is a difference in the attitude—it’s not that I think I’m too good for it…I just don’t need it anymore. “I’m cured.” There are two extremely dangerous times when relapses occur—when things are going very well and when things are going very bad. Complacency can be a stumbling block in both of these situations. Another danger when complacent is we don’t think it will happen to us. Another difference between cockiness and complacency is with cockiness we will boastfully tell people we have it covered and there is no danger. On the other hand, with complacency, we won’t tell anyone—we stop connecting with the people in our support network since the storm is passed and we believe there is clear sailing ahead.

I want to encourage you, again, to make sure you have people in your support network to help you with good, honest feedback and of course you have to listen to what they have to say. Others will probably see you heading down one of these paths before you will recognize it. Make a commitment to listen to them when they tell you they see danger ahead. In fact, I recommend you have a talk with them now and let them know about these attitudes that could lead to relapse and get their agreement to give you feedback and give them your commitment to listen to what they have to say.

Author's Bio: 

Tim Gray, MA, CADC

Tim has a masters degree in Mental Health Counseling and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor. He has 20 years of experience as a therapist working with mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. "I am very passionate about living a balanced, healthy life in recovery since I know the benefits in my life and struggles with additive behaviors."