Last week I had the fun experience of being a guest “speaker” on a Twitter addiction chat. I had no idea how I was supposed to be a  “speaker” in 140 characters or less. Luckily it turned out to be a Q&A. The final question  “How can a person tell if they’re starting to relapse and how can they stop themselves?” seemed like a good topic for this week’s blog post.

The interesting thing about a relapse is that afterward the addict will swear, “I made the decision to use” when really, “I made the decision a while ago and using was the anticipated outcome” is more likely the case. When we’re clean we always have a choice. By the time the “decision” to use comes along, we’ve already given up that choice by not recognizing and correcting the behaviors that were leading us toward a relapse in the first place. When we are in the disease clean, the window of opportunity to choose recovery gets smaller and smaller until our disease is stronger than our recovery and we use.  We forget we are powerless once we use. Almost every addict who has relapsed tells me immediately afterward, “If it gets bad, I’ll get clean again”. Really? If it was that easy to get clean, why wouldn’t I use one day a year?  They get amnesia about what it took for them to ever have had the desperation to get clean in the first place.

So what are these behaviors we need to watch out for and take seriously that have the power to eventually lead us back to using?

We start to come up with reasonable sounding reasons to start missing meetings (or IOP or whatever support group you are part of).

We start finding our recovery/sober friends annoying. We don’t feel like being around people and are much happier when we’re alone.

We feel a general crankiness toward everything.

We feel an endless hunger for anything (food, shopping, money, power, sex, attention, caffeine, tattoos, seductive pain) outside of ourselves to make us feel better, to feel excited, to feel alive. We long for euphoria.

We stop doing things we used to enjoy in our fellowship such as service, group activities, fellowship, stop working the steps (usually after step 5), stop talking to our sponsor/sponsees. In fact we start feeling judgmental toward both.

We start acting out in asshole behaviors without noticing such as gossip, anger, deceit, and righteousness. We nurture our resentments and start keeping secrets. Consequences include shame, remorse and guilt yet we do not talk about these feelings or their source to anyone.

We’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.  We take no action to remedy it.

We start hanging out with people who are not in recovery more often than people who are. Watching our friends who are not addicts use and drink starts making us have thoughts that we can do it too. We tell no one this.

We hang with using addicts and alcoholics and enjoy it. We believe it is not affecting us. We make less time for friends in recovery.

We act out in self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, eating disorders, sexual compulsion, unsafe sex, compulsive Internet cruising and tell no one.

We isolate in abusive or unhealthy romantic relationships wanting someone who doesn’t want us yet going back time and again expecting different results.

If you are doing ANYTHING that your head says is nobody’s business (not even the person you trust most with your recovery) LOOK AT IT.

I really believe that if an addict stays in emotional pain long enough the only solution guaranteed to bring relieve will be using.

A relapse can usually be traced back to a combination of these behaviors occurring over a period of time. If you see any combination of these happening in your life, start taking the opposite action. This can be as simple as removing yourself from the situation, recommitting to meetings, service, reconnecting to your support group and being thoroughly honest about devious thoughts and actions.





Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.

1 comment

that’s what friends, sponsors and sober coaches are for: to see your forest from your trees when the denial is so thick you can’t. The kick is to trust those around you. So make sure your group of friends are trustworthy. Your peers can save your life.

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