There are a few key warning signs that recovering addicts and alcoholics need to watch out for in their recovery journey.
These would be common situations or triggers that can often lead to relapse. And of course, if a recovering alcoholic relapses, essentially all the progress that they have made so far in recovery is completely erased, and they would be lucky to come back from a relapse and try to recover in the future. Some people never make it back to recovery.
So the first warning sign that I want to mention is that of a new romantic relationship in early recovery, say anything within the first year or two. Now I am not suggesting that the person is certain to relapse if they find themselves in a new relationship, but the chances are probably much higher than most people realize.
The reason for this is because the new romance becomes a place holder for the seeking of your higher power. To put it another way, when you first fall in love with someone, it feels so incredibly good that you essentially have blinders on at that point, and you cannot imagine ever being unhappy again in the future. Everything is right in your world and you think that this new romantic interest that you found could never do anything wrong. In simple terms, the new romance becomes your higher power, and it becomes your priority, even over your recovery program.
Now every person who falls in love will get defensive at this idea, and try to argue that they are still going to put their recovery first, that they are not slacking off, and so on.
Do not believe this for a second. If someone who is new to recovery falls in love with someone then it is a very big red flag, and the chances are very good that this will end in relapse.
I am not saying this because I heard that this happens–I am saying this because I lived in a halfway house for 20 months and I watched this happen over and over again with most of my peer group. I decided that this was the number one threat to people in early recovery because it was happening so often.
You may hear advice that you should wait at least a year before dating, or that you should take care of a plant for a year before you dive into a new romantic relationship. This is probably really good advice, and everyone who finds themselves falling for someone thinks that they are the exception to the rule, that they can be strong willed when it comes to this emotional roller coaster, and that if they just go with their heart then everything will work out fine.
Everyone thinks that they are the exception to the rule. But they’re not.
So new relationships are a huge red flag in early recovery, and I would strongly recommend the one year wait that is typically advised in AA meetings.
Now another major warning sign is something that must be observed internally by the individual. In other words, your peers and family cannot see this happening to you; you must notice it for yourself through self awareness. The warning sign is when you begin to think about “the good old days” and the fun times that you had when you were drinking or using drugs.
Now normally what you would do in these cases is to notice that you are thinking of the good old days, immediately remind yourself that you are in recovery now, and then force yourself to “play the tape all the way through,” meaning that you realize that even if the initial relapse might be “fun” for a few days, before the end of a single week you know that you will be absolutely miserable again.
Our brains are hard wired to remember the good memories and to minimize or forget about the bad memories. Therefore you have to realize that your mind is going to try to remember only the good times when it comes to alcoholism and drug addiction, and it will automatically minimize the bad times.
It can be fun or entertaining to sit and daydream about some of the good times that you had when you were still drinking or taking drugs. But if you allow your brain to follow through with these daydreams then it will make you absolutely miserable.
Because the brain is constantly comparing those “fun” memories of addiction to your present reality, and then your brain simply complains that it is missing out. The brain does this very persistently. In other words, this is not a trait that happens only rarely for people–this happens to everyone, everybody’s brain is wired this way. We all glorify our addiction and remember the good times while also minimizing the consequences and the bad emotions that they caused us.
Again, this is not a problem because it triggers us directly to relapse, but because it leads us to be miserable by comparison. It makes you focus on all of the fun that you are not having at the present moment.
One other red flag, or warning sign for recovery, is that of complacency.
Perhaps this is the sneakiest red flag of all, because complacency includes denial.
In other words, if you happen to become complacent in your recovery, you will also get defense about it, and you will deny that you are becoming complacent.
Complacency is laziness. Complacency is when you think you have recovery all figured out, and therefore you no longer have to push yourself so hard.
Complacency is when you quit going to AA meetings and you are not really trying to improve yourself, work the steps, work with a sponsor or therapist, and so on.
It is when you are clean and sober but you stop doing the work of recovery.
Complacency is coasting. You are coasting along in recovery, no longer really pedaling the bike like you did in early recovery when you dove into AA meetings and treatment and step work, but now you are just sort of living your life and hoping that things work out.
Well, life is designed such that, eventually, things won’t work out. We know this for sure–life has ups and downs, good moments and bad moments. It is only a matter of time until you are tested in your recovery. And when you are tested and things go poorly, you need to be able to respond, to take positive action, to seek help and support. And so you are either working a strong program of recovery that allows you to do that, or you are not.
And you have to keep doing this, you have to keep working on recovery, right up until the day you die. If you stop, if you get complacent, then your disease has an opening through which it can cause you to relapse.
So watch out for these warning signs and make sure you stay active in the process of recovery and personal growth.