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Myth: Relapse Can Happen Without Warning

There are many ideas about relapse that simply aren’t true, and one of them is the notion that relapse happens without warning. Certainly, it’s a fear that recovering addicts have. They have worked long and hard at their sobriety, went through the challenging detoxification process, and have stayed sober for months or years. Yet, the fear of relapse might still linger in the back of their minds. However, it’s important to know that relapse typically happens with plenty of warning and there are steps to take to avoid one when you begin to see those warning signs.

The fear that relapse can happen at any moment might stem from the fact that cravings tend to happen at any moment. However, just because a craving arises does not immediately put someone in jeopardy of relapse. If a person has the right amount of support around them, then a craving can come and go and there will not be a risk for relapse. One of the reasons someone might relapse, or feel as though they are relapsing without warning, is because they are not prepared to fight the cravings they experience. Essentially, their recovery support may not be strong enough. When this is the case, a person is in danger of relapse because of the strength of their recovery, and not because a craving arises.

Cravings are going to come and go throughout recovery. This is true for anyone who has struggled with an addiction. For this reason, the answer to experiencing cravings and to the fear of relapse is to strengthen the levels of support that exist for someone in recovery. A few signs that may indicate that someone’s recovery is not strong enough include:

  • Someone has not yet learned healthy coping mechanisms. When that person experiences a strong or intense emotion, he or she may experience cravings or feel out of control emotionally, and turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to cope.
  • Someone continues to feel ambivalent about staying sober. It’s common for a person to experience ambivalence before getting sober and before going through treatment. However, if treatment was required of them (and not a personal choice), then they might still have feelings for continuing to use. And if this is the case, that person might end up relapsing because that’s what they’ve wanted all along.
  • If someone has a mental illness in addition to an addiction, especially if that mental illness is untreated, then this can put a person at risk for relapse.
  • If someone has not worked to change their friendships or relationships with people who are still using, then one’s environment and social contacts might put them in danger of relapse.
  • If someone has lost the vigor to their recovery and they are beginning to feel stuck, that person might also be at risk for relapse.
  • If someone continues to engage in risky behavior, despite being sober, he or she might also be a risk for relapse. For instance, if a person continues to be in a relationship with someone who is abusive, the effects of the relationship might encourage them to relapse.

Relapse does not come out of nowhere. Relapse happens when one’s recovery is not strong enough or when one’s supports are not addressing a person’s vulnerabilities. If you are a recovering addict, talk to your drug counselor or therapist about how to keep yourself safe from relapse.


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