How to Recognize when a Loved One is Relapsing

If you have a family member or close friend who struggles with Substance Use Disorder, you have probably already heard their frantic promises to quit. They look you in the eye and swear that they will never drink or use drugs again as long as they live. They mean it this time.

And, no, they say, they don’t need to check into (or back into) a rehab program or go to support group meetings. They’ve just made up their mind that they will stop.

Addiction is a Cunning and Powerful Disease of the Brain

Unfortunately, it just isn’t that simple. SUD is a powerful disease that is stronger than any one person on their own. No matter how much willpower someone thinks they have, they are fighting a losing battle against their own altered brain. When someone resists and refuses to diligently work a structured program of recovery, they are literally setting themselves up for failure.

But SUD thrives on denial and deception. When their disease is actively in control, the same person who made all those heartfelt promises will be compelled by their substance-dependent brain to break each and every one. On top of it all, they will do everything they can to keep you from knowing the truth, including lying to you.

To be fair, it’s not their fault. Their disorder has hijacked their brain, to the point that they cannot resist their cravings and may not even be able to fully tell the difference between right and wrong.

But how can you see past their deception so you can get to the truth and respond in a manner that is best for both you and your addicted loved one?

Warning Signs A Loved One Has Relapsed

Let’s look at some of the tell-tale warning signs that can help you realize when someone you care about has relapsed.

They Act Secretive

Everyone needs their privacy, but people who are trying to hide their drinking or drug use take it to the extreme. They will:

  • Withdraw socially
  • Spend more time alone – in their room, in the garage or basement, etc.
  • Hide texts or phone calls
  • Be unable to account for their whereabouts
  • Hang out with friends they don’t want you to meet
  • Lie or get defensive when questioned

They Act Unpredictably

Substance abuse directly affects the areas of the brain associated with cognition, emotional regulation, and impulse control. Likewise, a person who is drug or alcohol dependent will experience uncontrollable cravings that affect their behavior.

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Episodes of manic energy, inability to sit still
  • Alternately, they are extremely lethargic, to the point of passing out
  • Extreme impulsivity
  • Risky behavior
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme anxiety/panic, especially when out of drugs and alcohol

Their Physical Appearance Changes

Substance abuse directly affects a person’s appearance and also causes them to stop caring about how they look.

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Uncharacteristically dirty or poorly-fitting clothing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sores on the face or skin
  • Injection or “track” marks
  • Burns on the lips, nose, or tongue
  • Rotten or missing teeth

They Have Money Problems

Addiction is an expensive disease that often demands all of a person’s money.

  • Spending that can’t be accounted for
  • Unpaid bills
  • Disconnected utilities
  • Repossessions
  • Sold or missing property
  • Constantly borrowing money
  • Criminal charges involving theft, fraud, or embezzlement.

They Are Not Present in Their Own Life

When a person has relapsed back into active addiction, the pursuit of that next drink or that next high becomes the most important thing in their life. Because everything else takes a backseat, they will:

  • “Forget” birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions
  • Miss their children’s school plays, sporting events, and conferences
  • Have poor attendance at work or school

They Stop Working Their Recovery Program

One of the biggest ways to tell if someone has relapsed is they stop doing all those things that helped get them sober in the first place. For example, they might:

  • Stop going to support group meetings.
  • Cancel counseling or rehab therapy sessions.
  • Say they are “cured”.
  • Miss court dates probation check-ins.
  • Refuse or fail drug tests
  • Try to justify using legal intoxicants like marijuana or alcohol by saying “at least it’s not” another illicit drug.

What You Can Do

If someone you care about has relapsed, it is natural for you to feel hurt and angry. But try to remember that addiction is a disease, not a choice. Do your best to respond with compassion and understanding.

When a relapse occurs, it is often a sign that the person had grown complacent or careless in recovery, or perhaps they still had underlying issues that were not addressed. Either way, it means that adjustments need to be made. Sometimes, they may even need to be evaluated to see if additional treatment services are needed.

At this difficult time, the best thing you can do to support them is to convince them to seek specialized professional help.

If you live in Southern California, the best place to get that help is at Lasting Recovery, one of the top outpatient rehab programs in San Diego. For nearly 20 years, Lasting Recovery has been the most trusted resource for individuals and families in crisis due to substance abuse and mental illness.

Recovery works, people do heal, and life does get better.

For more information, contact Lasting Recovery TODAY.

Lasting Recovery – “Where Wellness Begins…”

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