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7 Signs Your Loved One Is Using Drugs Again

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 2, 2019

Recovering from drug abuse can be a messy and involved process. Relapsing after completing treatment can happen, and many addiction professionals believe it is a natural part of the recovery process. Just as addiction recovery is unique to the individual, so is relapsing. Not every person may exhibit all of these signs, but the following are seven common signs your loved one may be using drugs again.

1. Becoming defensive

When someone becomes extremely defensive and starts to fall into the same denial pattern they had while abusing, it can mean they are beginning to think about misusing drugs again. Individuals may get defensive about their habits or thoughts. It is also possible someone has gone through treatment to convince themselves they cannot become addicted again.

2. Significant changes in attitude or behavior

Sudden changes in a loved one’s behavior and overall attitude can also be a sign that they are at risk for relapse. Behaviors such as isolation and development of depression are most common. It is typical for people to relapse due to a lack of wanting or knowing how to address uncomfortable and shameful feelings or emotions. Using substances can make some people feel as if they’ve temporarily escaped these feelings.

3. Breaking up multiple social relationships

A good support network is essential to maintaining sobriety. If a loved one starts decreasing the effort to maintain their personal connections, it could indicate that they are thinking about or potentially abusing drugs again.

Common things to look for include: more frequent arguments with friends, lying to their loved ones, spending less time with family, and resenting people who try to help them.

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4. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities

Finding a hobby or activity that is enjoyable can help prevent relapse. If a loved one lacks interest in the things that they came to enjoy before or during their recovery period, they could be using drugs once more. A lot of times an enjoyable hobby or physical activity can give someone another outlet aside from drugs in which they can experience an adrenaline rush or a greater sense of purpose.

5. Reconnecting with people they knew when they were addicted

It is possible individuals who have completed some form of addiction treatment may miss the friends they had when they abused drugs. Reconnecting with individuals who are still participating in drug abuse may put recovering individuals in the middle of an old environment. Once someone is exposed to this environment again, it can be very easy to fall into familiar patterns of abuse.

6. Sudden onset of withdrawal symptoms

Suddenly experiencing withdrawal symptoms is a concerning sign, as this likely indicates that someone has gone from thinking about using drugs again to actually doing so. Withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on which substance is abused. It is important to be knowledgeable about a loved one’s substances of abuse and the withdrawal symptoms they produce.

7. Losing belief in addiction recovery treatment

When someone exhibits more than one of the above signs, they may also experience significant shifts in their mindset about addiction recovery. When someone experiences a relapse, they may easily feel defeated or disappointed in themselves. To take the focus off themselves, they may try to blame the addiction recovery process and claim that it doesn’t work.

Effectiveness Of Addiction Treatment

Treating addiction involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and experiencing relapse does not mean that addiction treatment has failed. Relapse typically means that more treatment is needed. It is possible that the treatment type may need to be adjusted. A different treatment approach could help someone address their addiction more effectively.

The goal of most addiction treatment programs is to return individuals to a state in which they can be productive in their family, work, and community lives. Research that tracks individuals in treatment over an extended period shows most people who get into and remain in treatment not only stop using drugs, but also decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning.

Actual outcomes of addiction treatment can vary. What individuals get out of addiction recovery is typically equal to how much effort they put into it. The effectiveness of treatment can depend on an individual’s situation, the appropriateness of treatment and related services used to address the situation, and the quality of the interaction between the individual and their treatment providers.

What To Expect During Addiction Relapse Treatment

When a loved one returns to treatment as a result of a relapse, they will often find relapse treatment to be more intense than their previous program. In most cases, this is necessary because the intensely personal issues that triggered the relapse need to be identified and healed.

Many relapse treatment programs will work with individuals to help them break down their relapse cycle. Usually, this is done by putting less focus on lecture-based learning and more of an emphasis on behavioral health treatment and peer support. Increased focus on behavioral health can help addiction treatment specialists identify any underlying, co-occurring disorders, such as a depressive disorder or an anxiety disorder, which may have contributed to relapse.

The primary goals of relapse treatment are to educate and train people to move past their denial stage, investigate their triggers for drug abuse, and help them heal or cope with these triggers in a less destructive way. Mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs will be addressed to the fullest extent possible.

Individuals who enroll in a relapse treatment program may do so for varying lengths of time. It’s important to find a flexible program as everyone’s needs will be different. Most reputable rehab centers aim to ensure that individuals experiencing relapse receive adequate treatment to achieve a life of recovery.

Finding Addiction Treatment That Works

It is important to note that individuals who struggle with addiction can have a lot of shame, fear, and anger, and won’t always tell the truth about their drug use. If someone is suspected of returning to drug abuse, it is best to encourage them to see a doctor or addiction specialist as a first step.

Comprehensive addiction treatment that addresses both the psychological and physical components of addiction provides individuals with the best chance at lasting sobriety.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Treatment and Recovery

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs

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