Relapse Isn’t the End of the World!
There’s a saying in the rooms of recovery that goes a little something like “relapse is a part of recovery.” While I don’t love this saying – it oversimplifies the problem and solution – it’s often true.
Take it from me, a chronic relapser, that relapsing on drugs and alcohol after a period of sobriety is common. I started trying to get sober at eighteen years old. It took me a few years to get the hang of not picking up a drink or drug. In that time, I suffered a heroin relapse, a meth relapse, an alcohol relapse, and a pill relapse.
Today, I’ve been sober for over seven years. Still, that time was hard won and didn’t come without its fair share of struggle. With that in mind, I’ve set out to write the definitive guide to relapse and recovery.
Find information below on the signs of relapse on some specific drugs, as well as information on what to do after a relapse.
The signs are for family members wondering if their loved one is really sober. The steps to take after a relapse are for my people – addicts and alcoholics – who’re still struggling. God bless us!
The most important thing to remember about relapse and recovery is that relapse isn’t the end of the world. It has the power to destroy families, friendships, and take lives, but it’s only as powerful as we make it.
If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to call Lighthouse today! Many of our staff are in long-term recovery and can share their experience, strength, and hope about relapse with you. Remember, by sharing we cut the problem in half!
If you have a loved one in recovery who may be slipping, read on for vital information about how to be sure. If you’re an addict struggling with a heroin or meth relapse, or an alcoholic struggling with picking up a drink, read on for hope!
Signs of a Relapse
It’s important to point out that the following relapse signs aren’t the same for everyone. How I reacted to drugging and boozing after being in recovery may not be the same as how your loved one reacts.
With that being said, find common signs of a heroin relapse, and others, below:
The most obvious signs of relapsing on heroin are nodding off, pinned pupils, excessive scratching, track marks, and possession of paraphernalia like needles and “cookers.”
Nodding off is when someone falls into short periods of unconsciousness. It’s called nodding off because they’ll start to slump over and suddenly jerk awake. They’ll do this again and again.
Pinned pupils are when someone’s pupils are tiny. They look like pinpricks. All opioids – from codeine to oxycodone to Vicodin to heroin – will make someone’s pupils small. Think the opposite of what happens when smoking marijuana.
Excessive scratching doesn’t always indicate a relapse, but it is a common side effect of heroin. Again, all opioids, including heroin, make users incredibly itchy. I don’t know why, but they do. If your loved one suddenly can’t stop scratching themselves, well, it may be time to take a closer look.
Track marks are the puncture wounds and bruising around where someone injects heroin. They’re a sure sign of a heroin relapse. Not much else needs to be said.
Finding heroin or injection paraphernalia on your loved one is another sure sign of a heroin relapse. Trust me when I said that addicts are master manipulators and will try to talk themselves out of this one. Ignore them. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck.
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Cocaine & Meth Relapse
A cocaine or meth relapse can take many forms and have many telltale signs. There are also some glaring ones. These are things like not sleeping for extended periods of time, burns on your loved one’s lips, repetitive tics, paranoia, and possession of paraphernalia like meth/crack pipes and powder dusted keys.
This first coke or meth relapse sign, not sleeping for days, is the most obvious. Think of how TV and movies depict people strung out on stimulants – a crazy look in their sunken eyes, paranoid, spouting nonsense. That’s what happens when someone stays up for a few days. Cocaine, crack, and meth are the number one culprit for this kind of lack of sleep.
Your loved one may have burns on their lips and fingers if they’re smoking meth or crack. Both meth and crack pipes become incredibly hot as they’re used. Pair that with using again – and again and again – and it’s plain to see where the burns come from.
Repetitive tics are another common behavior displayed during a relapse on meth or coke. Again, think of the common portrayal of tweakers on TV. It has a firm basis in what actually happens when someone uses stimulants.
Paranoia goes hand-in-hand with repetitive tics and not sleeping. The longer someone stays awake, the more they think others are onto them. The stranger someone behaves, the more they think others are talking about them. It’s sad but true.
Finally, possessing things like crack pipes and bags or keys with powder residue is a 100% confirmed sign of a relapse on meth. Much like relapsing on heroin, if someone has the paraphernalia, they’re getting high. It’s that simple. Your loved one may try to talk their way out of admitting the truth – don’t let them.
The signs of an alcohol relapse are often more subtle than the signs of a drug relapse. That’s because alcohol doesn’t have as sudden and profound an effect on users as heroin, cocaine, or other hard drugs do.
Still, things like smelling of booze, disappearing for periods of time, erratic behavior, and being unable to remember certain things are common signs of an alcohol relapse.
Smelling like alcohol is pretty self-explanatory. Alcoholics drink and their body metabolizes and emits alcohol. Then they smell like it. I always tried to say that I’d been with people who were drinking, or that someone had spilled a beer on me, when I smelled like booze.
Trust me – that never happened. I was drunk. Plain and simple.
Disappearing for periods of time, being unable to remember events or people, and behaving erratically are other fairly obvious signs of a relapse on alcohol. That’s all thanks to blackouts and the strange stuff us alcoholics get into when we’re drinking.
If your loved one has started to go missing for a few hours, or even days, and they have a history of alcohol abuse, they’re drinking. If they can’t remember what they did last night, or you get a phone call saying they were standing in the street yelling, they’re drinking.
It stinks, but it’s the truth.
General Drug and Alcohol Relapse
As far as general drug and alcohol relapse signs go – those are a bit more, well, general. Things like lying, losing or missing money, shady behavior, and hanging out with old using friends are all common signs of a relapse.
There’s not much more that needs to be said about this type of slip. If you have a loved one who’s been in recovery, or been trying to get sober, and they start exhibiting old behavior – they’re probably drinking or using.
If that’s the case, reach out for professional help! Call a drug and alcohol relapse hotline. Call an addiction specialist. Call a treatment center. Call the police. Call a friend or family member who’s been through the same situation.
These are all proactive steps to take that will minimize the impact of your loved one’s relapse on your emotional health.
Having looked at some of the more common relapse signs, let’s turn our attention to what us addicts and alcoholics can do after we’ve relapsed.
What to Do After a Relapse
Remember what I said at the start of this guide? Relapse and recovery are a very real deal for most addicts and alcoholics. We don’t get better overnight and, in many cases, it takes us multiple times to finally “get” sobriety.
So, what do we do after we’ve picked up a drug or a drink? What do we do after we’ve relapsed?
The answer’s actually very simple. We get our butts to a meeting. We call our sponsor, our sober supports, our therapist, and our close friends and tell them what’s going on. If the situation warrants, we tell our family or significant other.
In other words, we ask for help!
That’s the simplest, and also hardest, thing to do after relapsing. That’s because although it’s simple to pick up and phone and tell the truth, it isn’t easy at all.
Addiction and alcoholism are rife with guilt and shame. Nowhere do these two monsters rear their ugly heads more than after we have a slip. That’s just how our brains and emotions work.
We need to walk through this guilt and shame. We need to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is. We need to own up and start over in recovery again.
If you’re like me – an addict and alcohol through and through – doing this feels impossible. It’s not, trust me. Still, getting that initial spark, that initial push, can be difficult.
With that in mind, call Lighthouse today. Most of our addiction specialists are in long-term recovery themselves. They’ll be able to guide you through the process of recovering from a relapse. If you need treatment, they’ll be able to get you into our doors, safe and secure, today!
More than anything else, they’ll be able to listen and understand what you’re going through. They’ve been there and come out on the other side happy and healthy. What more can you ask?