Addiction Alcohol Use Withdrawal and Relapse Warning Signs of an Alcohol or Drug Relapse By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on March 24, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Getty Images Relapse is common in the alcohol and drug recovery process. It is estimated that more than 90% of those in recovery have at least one relapse before they achieve lasting sobriety. But a relapse, sometimes called a "slip," doesn't begin when you pick up a drink or a drug. It is a slow process that begins long before you actually use. The steps to relapse are actually changes in attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that gradually lead to the final step, using a drink or a drug. If you are working toward long-term sobriety and want to avoid having a relapse, it is important to recognize the following warning signs. If you can identify them, you can take action to keep them from progressing into a full-blown relapse. Signs of Relapse Researchers Terence T. Gorski and Merlene Miller identified a set of warning signs or steps that typically lead up to a relapse. Over the years, additional research has confirmed that the steps described by Gorski and Miller are reliable and valid predictors of alcohol and drug relapses. Change in Attitude Change in attitude: For some reason, you decide that participating in your recovery program is just not as important as it was. You feel something is wrong, but can't identify exactly what it is. Elevated Stress An increase in stress in your life can be due to a major change in circumstances or just little things building up. Returning to the "real world" after a stint in residential treatment can present many stressful situations. The danger is in over-reacting to those situations. Be careful if you begin to have mood swings and exaggerated positive or negative feelings. Reactivation of Denial This is not denial that you have a drug or alcohol problem. It's denial that stress is getting to you. You try to convince yourself that everything is OK, but it's not. You may be scared or worried, but you dismiss those feelings and stop sharing them with others. Recurrence of Withdrawal Symptoms Anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and memory loss can continue long after you quit drinking or doing drugs. Known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, these symptoms can return during times of stress. They are dangerous because you may be tempted to self-medicate them with alcohol or drugs. Behavior Changes You may begin to change the daily routine that you developed in early sobriety that helped you replace your compulsive behaviors with healthy alternatives. You might begin to practice avoidance or become defensive in situations that call for an honest evaluation of your behavior. Social Breakdown You may begin feeling uncomfortable around others and making excuses not to socialize. You stop going to your support group meetings or you cut way back on the number of meetings you attend. You begin to isolate yourself. Loss of Structure You begin to abandon the daily routine or schedule that you developed in early sobriety. You may begin sleeping late, ignoring personal hygiene, or skipping meals. Loss of Judgment You have trouble making decisions or you make unhealthy decisions. It may be hard to think clearly and you become confused easily. You may feel overwhelmed for no apparent reason or not being able to relax. You may become annoyed or angry easily. Loss of Control You make irrational choices and are unable to interrupt or alter those choices. You begin to actively cut off people who can help you. You begin to think that you can return to social drinking and recreational drug use and you can control it. You may begin to believe there is no hope. You lose confidence in your ability to manage your life. Loss of Options You begin to limit your options. You stop attending all meetings with counselors and your support groups and discontinue any pharmacotherapy treatments. You may feel loneliness, frustration, anger, resentment, and tension. You might feel helpless and desperate. Final Stage: Relapse You attempt controlled, "social" or short-term alcohol or drug use, but you are disappointed with the results and experience shame and guilt. You quickly lose control and your alcohol and drug use spiral further out of control. This causes increasing problems with relationships, jobs, money, mental, and physical health. You need help getting sober again. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Preventing Relapse Relapse following treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is common and predictable, but it is also preventable. Knowing the warning signs and steps that lead up to a relapse can help you make healthy choices and take alternative action. If a relapse does happen, it is not the end of the world. If it happens, it is important that you get back up, dust yourself off and get back on the path to recovery. Press Play for Advice On Recovery Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring addiction specialist Erica Spiegelman, shares the skills that help in recovery. Click below to listen now. Subscribe Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Mwangi N. Street: Strategy to Reach Edify & Empower Teens. WestBow Press; 2016. Miller WR, Harris RJ. A simple scale of Gorski's warning signs for relapse. J Stud Alcohol. 2000;61(5):759-765. doi:10.15288/jsa.2000.61.759 Kelly JF, Hoeppner BB, Urbanoski KA, Slaymaker V. Predicting relapse among young adults: Psychometric validation of the Advanced WArning of RElapse (AWARE) scale. Addict Behav. 2011;36(10):987-993. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.05.013 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.