Common Signs of a Prescription Drug Relapse

Common Signs of a Prescription Drug Relapse?Addiction is a progressive, degenerative disease of the mind and body, and unlike many other diseases, there is no cure. Addiction, once developed, needs to be treated over a person’s lifetime in order to prevent a relapse. This means that both the recovering addict and his or her loved ones need to take an active role in watching for signs of relapse.

While a small relapse, especially after a long period of sobriety, should not be seen as a failure, it should be taken seriously, as it could lead to a full-blown relapse if the person does not receive the proper treatment. Additionally, those who are addicted to certain drugs, especially opiates like heroin and fentanyl, may be more susceptible to an overdose during a relapse. This is primarily because tolerance to opiates builds quickly, leading to overdose when they attempt to take drugs like heroin at the same or similar doses as they did before they got sober.  

Prescription Drug Abuse is a Growing Problem in the U.S.

Although many individuals become addicted to alcohol or illicit drugs, addiction to prescription drugs is one of the fastest growing public health problems in the U.S. According to the U.S. government, more than 22,000 Americans per year lose their lives to prescription drug overdoses, and nearly 17,000 those individuals overdosed on opioid painkillers.

While doctors commonly prescribe medications like opiates, benzos, and stimulants for anxiety, pain, ADD and other conditions, these drugs often end up becoming far more addictive than many patients (and even doctors) expect. When a person realizes they have a issue with pharmaceutical drug abuse, getting prescription drug addiction treatment is an essential first step.

The Best Way to Treat Relapse is To Avoid It

Considering the fact that, for some addicts, relapsing can be deadly, it’s essential to understand the warning signs that may be present in an individual who is likely to relapse soon or has recently relapsed. It’s important to understand that relapse is a process, not a single decision or event. When a person relapses, they likely made the decision to do so (consciously or subconsciously) days, weeks, or even months before actually physically consuming alcohol or drugs.

Relapse Warning Signs

The relapse warning signs that often lead up to or closely follow a drug and/or alcohol relapse may include:

Anxiety, Minor Depression, Uneasiness

The first step in the relapse process is often characterized by the person’s strong dissatisfaction with their current life situation, whether it be financially, socially, physically, romantically or otherwise. Sometimes this is precipitated by a major negative life event, such as the loss of a job, home, business, relationship, or family member, and other times, it slowly creeps up on the individual who has been making less than optimal life decisions, or has been dealing with a series of minor challenges over a period of several months or years.

Denial of Life Problems

After realizing that they are anxious, depressed, or dissatisfied with life, the next step in relapse is often the person’s decision to sweep their feelings of unhappiness under the rug. Instead of dealing with these problems through setting new goals, making different life choices, or seeking professional help, they deny their problems exist in the first place, initiating a string of coping behaviors that may help them feel better in the short term. However, these behaviors often only  exacerbate their problems, leading to serious issues with their long-term mental, physical, and emotional health.

Loneliness and Minor Impulsive BehaviorCommon Signs of a Prescription Drug Relapse

After denying their unhappiness and failing to make constructive life choices, many individuals will begin to isolate themselves. This could be due to their anxiety about their own life or perhaps as a way to subconsciously punish themselves for what they see as their own bad decision making. This often means that they will withdraw from friends and family and may occasionally be missing at work, social, or family functions.

Usually, however, they will explain these absences away with a convincing explanation, and they will usually keep attending any addiction treatment or therapy meetings they were previously attending (as to not raise undue suspicion from friends, family, sponsors, and therapists whom they know would likely confront them about missing meetings.)  

If they look closely at this stage, friends and family members may also see minor changes in the way the person responds to stressful situations. For example, they may uncharacteristically curse at or swerve in at a driver who cuts them off in traffic, or may seem frustrated or angry because of a problem, issue or situation, which usually would not upset them.

Changes in Daily Habits, Like Eating and Sleeping

After withdrawing a bit from family and friends and engaging in compulsive behaviors, the person’s anxiety, depression, and other emotional issues may begin to affect their daily health habits and schedules. For example, someone who is usually very organized may stop planning out his or her days. In other cases, the person may experience sleeping problems, and may begin to substitute a regularly healthy diet for soda, junk food, candy, and other unhealthy options.  

Major Depression, Increased Anxiety, and Increased Isolation

Following significant negative changes in day-to-day life choices, the individual will likely retreat further within themselves and begin to experience more serious feelings of depression and anxiety. This increase in negative feelings and emotions usually leads them to withdraw even more from family and friends. For example, friends and family members who see an individual every day may only see them once or twice every few weeks, and this time, they aren’t as likely to offer a reasonable explanation for their absence.

Irritation with and Anger Toward Friends and Loved Ones (Especially When Confronted)

At this point in the process, multiple friends and family members are likely concerned with the person’s actions and behaviors, especially given his or her history of addiction. These concerns often lead friends and family to confront the person to see if anything’s wrong. Oftentimes, the addict will often brush them off and act annoyed or even angry that they are asking in the first place.

Quitting Recovery Meetings or Ceasing to Take Medications Regularly (or at all)

If a recovering addiction going through emotional relapse goes to regular support group meetings, this is the stage when they are likely to stop. Often, even if the person is beginning to experience several of the warning signs of relapse and does not want to go to meetings, they will still do so in order to avoid being asked questions by friends, family, sponsors and others. This is also the point at which they may stop taking medications on a regular basis, especially medications used to treat anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders. They may also stop regularly medications used to treat addiction, especially medications used to treat addiction to opiates, as they may anticipate substituting them for the ‘real thing.’

Thoughts About “Using Socially” and Glamorizing Past Addiction

At this stage, which is usually considered the final stage before a relapse occurs, the person will consciously think and fantasize about using drugs they used to abuse. Often, they believe that they can control their drug use this time around, and that it will somehow benefit them and make them feel better about their lives.

They may also talk about specific moments or things they did when they were addicted in a falsely positive light, and may even discuss this openly with friends or family members. At this stage, the person is at extremely high risk for relapse, and are likely to attempt to return to places, activities, or people they were with during their period of addiction.

Knowing the Signs of Relapse is the Key to Preventing One

Without knowing and understanding the signs and stages of a potential relapse, it can be difficult or impossible to prevent one. If you or someone you know has struggled with addiction or is currently in recovery, it’s essential to know, understand, and continuously monitor your loved ones for these signs as it may just save their lives.

Finding a Comprehensive Drug Rehab Program

Professional drug treatment isn’t just about preventing addiction, it’s about giving patients and their families the tools to understand and prevent addiction throughout their lives. Whether it’s a patient’s first time getting sober, or they’ve gone through treatment many times, it’s essential for them to find a caring, compassionate, and professional drug addiction rehab facility where they can learn the skills and find the strength required to get sober permanently.

At Get Treatment, we have helped thousands of addicts find a treatment facility that meets their individualized needs. Our top-rated substance abuse treatment centers offer comprehensive and individualized treatment programs that include medical detox, residential and outpatient treatment options, and aftercare services. We guide patients through every stage of the addiction recovery process.


Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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