Warning Signs of Potential Relapse

yellow and black triangular warning sign against brick wall - relapse symptoms

Sometimes living healthfully requires more dedicated focus. Stressful work issues, family or relationship problems, recurring trauma, financial difficulties, and even the strain of national or world events all throw obstacles onto your wellness path. If you are in recovery and feeling “off”, it’s important to examine why and reach out for support.

Potential Relapse Symptoms Are Similar for Substance Use and Other Disorders

Whether you’re in recovery for drug or alcohol use or some form of process addiction, or you have concerns about the management of your mood, co-occurring, or eating disorder, your intuition will probably send out warning flares that your usual coping techniques aren’t working for you during a troubling time. But do you know why, exactly? It might be time to examine the triggers that often prompt relapse behavior.


In treatment, you were taught to identify H.A.L.T. triggers: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Each of these conditions has various levels of emotional and psychological effects if stretched beyond acceptable limits. So take a deep breath and allow yourself to be introspective about the following aspects of your life:

  • What type of hunger do you have right now that isn’t being fulfilled: Attention? Comfort? Community? Companionship? Understanding?
  • Have you rationally addressed feelings of anger toward someone or something, or are you using substances or adverse behaviors to avoid confrontation or conflict?
  • What circumstances contribute to feelings of isolation? Are you deliberately isolating yourself—if so, why? Do emotions such as guilt or shame contribute to this behavior? Are you using healthy methods to alleviate loneliness?
  • Are you feeling tired or exhausted? Is it a physical reaction to excessive work or temporary stress, or are you overwhelmed by circumstances you feel are forced on you or out of your control? Another important point to reflect on is whether the effort of trying to stay healthy or sober is exhausting—why or why not?


Whenever we feel challenged, threatened, or uneasy, it’s natural to retreat into a level of internal avoidance that we believe helps us cope. But as you probably already learned in treatment, avoidance behavior is rarely successful and often does more harm than good, especially if it causes you to consider returning to damaging actions.

According to Psych Central Professional, there are five forms of avoidance:

  • Cognitive—which involves avoiding “internal events such as unpleasant or distressing thoughts or memories.”
  • Protective—including the use of “excessive safety behaviors that might include checking, cleaning, over-preparing, or perfectionism.”
  • Situational—this most common form of avoidance prompts individuals to “fear locations, people, or activities.”
  • Somatic—when someone “often tries not to experience internal sensations associated with emotional distress, such as feeling hot, being out of breath, fatigue or exhaustion.”
  • Substitution—which relates to replacing one feeling for another or numbing one’s feelings with behaviors often typical of process addictions.

Other Relapse Symptoms

Other relapse symptoms to watch out for, according to research by Terence T. Gorski and Merlene Miller featured in Very Well Mind, include but aren’t limited to:

  • Post-acute withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, not thinking clearly, and mood disorders like anxiety or depression.
  • Forgoing healthy routines and rituals and other aspects of structure you once relied on to help curb compulsive behavior.
  • A recent breakup, seeing old friends or acquaintances who remind you of a past life filled with destructive impulses, and other relationship challenges.
  • Conflict between past behaviors and your current intent to change.
  • Denying that stress or other conflict is affecting you and choosing not to communicate with your therapists or support groups about it, and even avoiding social circles that might be helpful.
  • Romanticizing aspects of the self-harm behavior—such as feelings related with previous substance use, experiencing aspects of body dysmorphia and elevating your self-image to when you had an eating disorder, or missing the thrill of a casino.
  • Feeling a loss of judgement and/or control, which often leads to irrational behavior; avoidance of or dishonesty with people who might be helpful; anger or other emotional triggers; a belief that you can manage your addictions and they don’t need to be “controlled”; a return to compulsive behavior; attempting to deal with mental health issues without assistance; or hopelessness.

You’ve come too far in your treatment and recovery to lose awareness over what’s really happening. Take a deep breath, acknowledge there are challenges you want help with, and turn to the tools that will help you regain stability.

Preventing Relapse Through Connection

Too often, we feel alone in our troubles, which makes it easier to tumble down a well of despair. But you know the way out—and often, it has to do with reaching out.

  • Identify your stressors and make a list of who can help you work through them. Every single member of your support network is dedicated to your well-being; otherwise, they wouldn’t be part of a trusted circle. If they needed help, you’d be there for them, right? They’d like to do the same for you.
  • Return to the therapeutic methods that made a difference. Placing a priority on good mental health is essential for facing and moving beyond challenging times. Even a few visits with a therapist can help shift your perspective.
  • Review your continuum of care plan with a qualified counselor to see what you might need to address what you’re facing now. Relapse doesn’t mean failure, but the potential of it is an indicator that something isn’t working as well as it could.
  • Dedicate yourself to practicing calming techniques so your body and mind have more balance. You might not be in control of the chaos around you, but you can control your reaction to it.

We Can Help

If you feel on the edge and want more professional assistance, we can help. Cottonwood Tucson alumni can use the CaredFor App to immediately connect with and support one another. You might also inquire about our assessment program to help deter potential relapse.

For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, mental health and addiction treatment in Tucson, call (888) 727-0441. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.


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