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Is it possible to spot a slip (or a potential return to addictive behaviour) before it happens? In this article, we will take a closer look at some common warning signs, which are helpful to be aware of.

What are the signs of a relapse?

The signs of a return to an alternative lifestyle actually come before alcohol or drugs are consumed or used. It is the time that precedes this that is the most key period to be aware of in order to stop a potential rejection of recovery principles.

The top-level steps to relapse include:

  • Changes in attitudes
  • Changes in feelings
  • Changes in behaviours

Then leading to using of a substance if a planned or phased return to drinking or drugs hasn’t been averted by observing these steps above.

Man at the sunrise

These warning signs are thought to be reliable predictors, either for a return to drug or alcohol use. Below, we will look at the warning signs in greater detail.

Change in attitude

When you start a recovery program or detox, you understand the process and your commitment to it. This is how you find the strength to overcome your inner demons, and choose to live your life abstinent of alcohol or drugs.

One of the warning signs of a potential return to active addiction is this attitude changing over time. What was once a very important step in your life (the decision to stop drinking or taking drugs, and the way you managed this), becomes less important. It can feel like something is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on what that thing is.

Stress levels

Stress can be a trigger for many mental health and addiction issues. It could be a string of small stressful situations, or a major life change that piles on the pressure. Stress can appear at any moment, even from when you initially return home from a residential stay at a clinic; you are no longer sheltered from some external stressors, meaning that recovery aftercare is really important.

Look out for mood swings, or heightened lows and highs.

Denial of stress

You can try and avoid letting the stress get to you, but denying that it exists may not be healthy in the long term. It is important to communicate these stressors rather than bottling them up, or dismissing the feelings that you are experiencing.

Withdrawal symptoms

Stress has another drawback. It can bring back some of the withdrawal symptoms that you may have experienced at the time that you stopped drinking or taking drugs. These are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the common withdrawal symptoms that may return with stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleeplessness
  • Memory loss

If these warning signs are observed, it is important to speak to your recovery team. These symptoms may lead a person with an addiction to self-medicate through alcohol or drug use.

Changes in behaviour

At the onset of sobriety, it is likely that you would have developed some healthier alternatives to your previous compulsive behaviours. This may have been an exercise regime, a job, or many other things. Whatever it was, a warning sign would be when you change this routine again, which could be relinquishing responsibility or personal effort.

Breakdown in socialising

Another warning sign is when you begin to isolate yourself, or take yourself away from situations where you would have group support. This may be regular meetings with a support group or a counsellor, or cutting of communication with friends and family members who have helped you on your journey to recovery.

Loss of structure

Just like the changes in behaviour outlined above, a loss of structure is when you start to skip, cancel, or quit the ‘positive’ areas of your life. This is a gradual abandonment of the routine you put in place, and could also include missing normal daily habits like showering and personal hygiene, a shift in your sleep patterns, or missing your usual meal times – perhaps skipping them entirely.

Loss of judgment

Your ability to make decisions is worsened, or you make unhealthy decisions instead. You might feel like thinking becomes more difficult, and you lose your sense of being able to be rational. This may then lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, causing you to feel angry or annoyed.

Loss of control

Things continue to spiral from the steps above, leading to further lack of routine, increased isolation, and more irrational choices. You may believe that you could return to occasional recreational drug use or social drinking situations, and think you could control it better than previously. Aside from that, you would likely suffer from a lack of confidence in other areas of your life, and have feelings of hopelessness.

Loss of options

At this point, you would have stopped attending all of your meetings with those who have been helping you up until now. Your negative feelings may increase, with resentment and anger being present without too much effort.


This is when you return to regular drinking or alcohol use, unable to do this socially as you thought you may be able to. You continue to lose control of your situation and circumstances, affecting many areas of your life. This is when you need help getting sober again, having returned to active addiction.

Can warning signs be trusted?

There are phases of drug addiction or alcohol use, which is why the warning signs can be used as an indication of a potential disruption on the journey to recovery. By observing the warning signs, it can help to avoid a full return to addictive behaviours, which would need a more clinical approach to overcome.

Warning signs are something that can be observed by the individual themselves, or other people who live or work with them.

If you believe that you, or someone you know, are at risk of relapse, it is important to take action and speak to the team at Delamere as soon as possible.

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