Symptoms Leading To Relapse – Stop And Check In

Developing awareness around certain behaviors or symptoms could protect you from relapse. Are you noticing that things are shifting, less focus on self care or recovery processes, less engagement with relationships? The following list will identify 9 things to be on the lookout for, so you can change course and get back on track if need be.

Self Pity

Falling into the victim trap and feeling helpless is definitely a slippery slope. It’s not a far leap from “woe is me” to “what does it matter if I use or not.” The antidote to this is to realize that you are not powerless. You are not a victim, you are where you are because of choices you have made up to this point.

So take a step back, if there is past trauma or a lot of hurt from the past, get help to resolve it. Sometimes pulling up your bootstraps and just carrying on is not always the best option. You may not have had control in the past, and let’s be honest you don’t always have control over many things today. However, you are 100% in control and responsible for your choices today, that is where your power it.


When we get frustrated with other people or because things aren’t working out the way we want, it might be a good time to give yourself a reality check. Life isn’t always fair, people aren’t always nice and understanding, other people have their own problems and life events. I’m not saying it isn’t okay to be disappointed, you can absolutely honor your feelings.

Check in, is it really that big of a deal, if it doesn’t get done today will it matter in the long run. For example: If someone doesn’t have time for you today, can you plan for another time. Is there another option, can you let it go? With frustration we can spend a lot of time in our head analyzing the situation we are upset about, be careful not to fall into the trap of mind reading or catastrophizing.

Burning The Candle At Both Ends

One of the things that I have seen with past clients is that they get into recovery and they feel the need to make up for lost time, or their plan for sobriety is just staying busy. The problem with burning the candle at both ends is that something has to give and it is usually self care. Making time for good nutrition and exercise, enough sleep, some relaxation and leisure activity isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. When we aren’t taking care of our needs we get depleted and overwhelmed and it is easy to slip up, not be thinking as clearly, potentially make a bad decision and put your self at risk.

Maybe you need to go back to the drawing board, check in on your values, what is it you really want? Are you living in alignment with your values and goals? Can you move towards a little more life balance?


Be on the look out for little white lies or lies by omission. If you find yourself starting to tell little white lies in order to not raise questions, or because you are tired of being under the microscope, wondering when people will let up and trust you, it’s time to check in. Maybe have a conversation with others and let them know that you need a little space, maybe some patience from them.

If you find that you are lying to yourself, rationalizing behaviors or making excuses for not working on your recovery plans and strategies, stop and pay attention to what you are saying to yourself. What else might be going on? Do you have too much on your plate, are you starting to question if you really had a problem, slipping back into denial? Do you need to change up your recovery plan a little? Are you feeling stagnant? This might be a great time to journal and just see what comes up.


This could be due to a couple of things, you might feel like things aren’t happening fast enough. It could be self directed, you are impatient with yourself because you haven’t been perfect or things are getting better fast enough. I often hear from clients that they’ve changed the behavior or stopped using and nothing has really changed except now they’re miserable and more aware of it. Recognize that change takes time, what you really want may take some time to figure out. If you created a lot of chaos in your life it might take a while for people to trust you again, you may need to dig yourself out of financial or relationship problems. Depending on the substance or behavior you might have really messed up your brain chemistry and until you heal a bit and start creating some feel good neurotransmitters, you might just not feel happy. This will change with time as you engage in healthy activities.

If your impatience is directed at others, you could be trying too hard to control the situation. Would it be possible to just allow things to unfold the way they are meant to instead of trying to force something. If you allow things to happen naturally you might see that the timing was actually perfect.


There is a huge difference between confidence and cockiness. With confidence, you just know that “you got this” without the need to prove it to anyone. With cockiness there is often a bit of arrogance and a need to prove to others that you no longer have a problem, and you could potentially put you self in situations that risk your sobriety. So check in, a little fear might be a good thing to keep you alert.


This means losing some drive to work on recovery. Relapses happen just as frequently when things are going well, as when someone is really stressed. It could be because you are no longer focused on growth and the reasons you wanted to change. The answer is balance, too much focus on recovery and it can just be a replacement for the addiction you gave up. Not enough focus and you may start to forget just how much of a problem the compulsive behavior was creating in your life.

Have some things you do consistently, like journaling and mindfulness exercises. Check in on your emotions and give them a voice, focus on self care and the life that you are creating. Know you limitations, if spending an hour every morning on an online site, writing and responding to other people’s posts fits into your day and keeps you focused, great. If it stresses you out, tweak it, set a timer for 30 minutes or attend an online meeting or live meeting a couple of times a week instead of every day. Find what works for you and tweak as necessary. If you feel like you are in need of more support, how does that fit into your schedule? The goal is to make some recovery processes and skills be an habitual part of your lifestyle so you don’t become complacent.

Depression And/Or Anxiety

Many people self medicate with behaviors or substances, or find that the end result of their addiction has led to anxiety or depression. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, once you decide that you are no longer going to engage in that behavior or substance all the stuff you have been pushing away can come rushing in. If the choice is going back to your coping strategy or dealing with the emotional state, do yourself a favor and get the help you need to finally learn strategies for lifting depression and letting go of the anxiety. There are plenty of online resources for dealing with anxiety or depression. You tube has some great videos on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Committement Therapy, ways to use Mindfulness and Meditation for health. These may help, but if you aren’t noticing a difference please take responsibility for your emotional and mental health and well-being, get professional help if you need more. .


Louise Hay is a self-help author, and in one of her books I read that as part of the path to her healing and happiness she let go of expectations of others. I find that this is easier said than done but actually can be a gift to yourself and others if you can achieve it. What does this look like in practice? Let’s say that you have a belief and an expectation that people should be on time, that seems reasonable right? The truth is that it is not a law of the Universe, it isn’t a fact, it might be a nice thing to be on time but for some people it just isn’t that big of a deal. So what do you do, just let other people walk all over you? No, it is okay to set boundaries. If you have a friend or family member that is always late and it makes you want to scream, set a boundary, “If you aren’t here by 6:00, I will be leaving without you.” Or, don’t invite them to things that require you be punctual, that’s just asking for frustration.

Expectations are a way of trying to control a situation or a person and we have no control over others. Is it okay to have expectations of yourself? Yes! Have some realistic and reasonable expectations, losing 30 pounds in 30 days isn’t a realistic expectation for most people, it might be possible but probably not healthy. If you start a new job that requires a skill set you haven’t used before, you won’t be perfect on the first day, or even the first month or two. Set a reasonable expectation to do your best and allow yourself to make mistakes.

A Few Last Thoughts

If you see yourself in any of the above scenarios, this is a good time to sit and reflect. What needs to change? Do you need a little more support, or just need to reach out to the support system that you have?

Remember the part of the change process that involves building motivation? Moving away from pain is a good place to start, but in order to maintain change we need a vision of the desired outcome to keep pulling us forward when things get rough. If you are noticing that several of the above symptoms resonate, it could be that motivation is waning, or there hasn’t been a strong enough motivation for change created. In that case revisit why you wanted to change, remember the problems that were created by your behavior or substance use. Build the vision of the outcome you desire.

Finally, I’m a big fan of self compassion, most of us have an inner critic that is alive and well and when it starts to take over we can fall prey to any of the above traps. Do you need to engage in a little more self compassion, have a little more patience with yourself and others? If you find yourself losing focus, stop and check in, pay more attention to self talk and unhelpful thinking, they are just thoughts, not facts.

Be well.

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