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Relapse Warning Signs

*The relapse warning signs discussed below were originally referenced by researcher and clinician Terrance Gorski. These warning signs have since been deemed reliable and valid by the scientific community and the clinicians who use them. 

The Relapse Process And Warning Signs

The following is an overview of the relapse process broken down into ten phases. It’s important to remember that the relapse process can be interrupted at any time. Wellness Center New Jersey has walked many addicts back from the gates of relapse to recovery, and they can help you too.

  • Phase 1: Return of Denial
    • Concern about well-being
    • Denial of the concern
  • Phase 2: Avoidance and Defensive Behavior
    • Believing “I’ll never use again”
    • Worrying about others instead of self
    • Defensiveness
    • Compulsive behavior
    • Impulsive behavior
    • Tendencies towards loneliness
  • Phase 3: Crisis Building
    • Tunnel vision
    • Minor depression
    • Loss of constructive planning
    • Plans begin to fail
  • Phase 4: Immobilization
    • Daydreaming and wishful thinking
    • Feelings that nothing can be solved
    • Immature wish to be happy
  • Phase 5: Confusion And Overreaction
    • Periods of confusion
    • Irritation with friends
    • Easily angered
  • Phase 6: Depression
    • Irregular eating habits
    • Lack of desire to take action
    • Irregular sleeping habits
    • Loss of daily structure
    • Periods of deep depression
  • Phase 7: Behavioral Loss of Control
    • Irregular attendance at fellowship and treatment meetings
    • Development of an “I don’t care” attitude
    • Open rejection of help
    • Dissatisfaction with life
    • Feelings of powerlessness and helplessness
  • Phase 8: Recognition Of Loss Of Control
    • Self-pity
    • Thoughts of social using
    • Conscious lying
    • Complete loss of control
  • Phase 9: Option Reduction
    • Unreasonable resentment
    • Discontinuance of fellowship attendance and all treatment
    • Overwhelming loneliness, frustration, anger, and tension
  • Phase 10: Acute Relapse Period
    • Loss of behavioral control
    • Acute relapse period

The Process Of Relapse

Terrance Gorski termed the first phase in the process of relapse, “return of denial.” During this phase, the addict or alcoholic is unable to recognize what they are thinking and feeling. Symptoms include the addict/alcoholic being concerned about their well-being and responding with denial.

Phase 2 is termed “avoidance and defensive behavior” during which the addict begins actively avoiding anyone or anything that causes uncomfortable feelings. When triggered, defensive behavior is used to avoid taking an honest look at themselves. In phase two, someone might believe that they will never use again, worry more about others instead of self, get defensive, engage in compulsive behavior, engage in impulsive behavior, and tend towards loneliness.

During the third phase, crisis building, life problems caused by denying personal feelings, isolating, and neglecting a recovery program begin to manifest. Characteristic of this phase is tunnel vision, minor depression, loss of constructive planning, and the plans of the addict beginning to fail.

Phase 4 is titled “immobilization” and reflects the addict being completely unable to initiate action. During the immobilization phase, common symptoms include daydreaming and wishful thinking, feelings that nothing can be solved, and an immature wish to be happy.

Phase 5, titled “confusion and overreaction,” finds the addict unable to think clearly, becoming upset with self and others, becoming irritable, and overreacting to minor things. During this phase, an addict or alcoholic would notice periods of confusion, irritation with friends, and being easily angered.

The sixth phase is the depression phase. Depression becomes so severe that the addict has trouble keeping up with regular daily routines. Thoughts of suicide become common. Other symptoms include irregular eating habits, lack of desire to take action, irregular sleeping habits, loss of daily structure, and periods of deep depression.

Stage seven is called the “behavioral loss of control” phase. At this point, the alcoholic can no longer control their behavior or operate on a daily schedule. This phase’s common symptoms include irregular fellowship meetings, development of an “I don’t care” attitude, open rejection of help when offered, dissatisfaction with life, feelings of powerlessness, and helplessness.

During the eighth phase, “recognition of loss of control,” the addicts’ denial breaks down, and they are suddenly able to see how severe their problems are and how unmanageable their life has become. At this point, they may feel self-pity, have thoughts of social use, engage in lying, and feel a complete loss of control.

Phase nine, “option reduction,” sees the addict coming to believe there are only three ways out- suicide, insanity, or drug use. They believe they are beyond help and may also have unreasonable resentments, overwhelming loneliness, frustration, anger, and tension, and may cease all recovery meetings and treatment activities.

Wellness Center New Jersey provides drug and alcohol treatment in Cliffside Park, NJ.

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