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Relapse – Symptoms, Triggers, And Prevention

Learning how to identify the triggers and early warning signs of meth relapse can help a person prevent a return to compulsive, long-term drug use.

Contrary to what some people may think, relapse doesn’t mean a person failed. In fact, like with other chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension, relapse is quite common. And like with other diseases, a successful recovery from meth addiction is possible.

Relapse rates for methamphetamine are some of the highest, with researchers citing that between 40 percent and 60 percent, and sometimes up to 90 percent of people relapse. Meth addiction can start with illegal crystal meth or prescription Desoxyn.

Should a person start taking meth again, spotting the red flags of relapse can help a person or their loved ones find the best treatment program for their needs.

The Stages Of Meth Relapse

Relapse typically doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it’s a gradual process that takes place as a person moves away from a recovery mindset. 

Relapse as most people think of it is when a person actively starts using meth again, however, relapse frequently starts weeks and even months before a person returns to using meth.

During this time, relapse typically takes part in three phases:

Emotional Relapse

In this stage, a person is not actively thinking about taking meth, however, they may be in denial. Handling emotions in an unhealthy way and being isolated from a support network frequently happens at this time.

Signs of emotional relapse include:

  • keeping emotions pent up
  • quitting meetings
  • not sharing at meetings 
  • focusing on other people instead of self

Mental Relapse

During a mental relapse a person fights thoughts about using the drug. As this stage progresses, their ability to fight these feelings decreases and the desire to escape becomes more frequent.

Signs of a mental relapse include:

  • cravings for meth
  • thinking about people, places, or things that are tied to drug use
  • glamorizing or minimizing the consequences of past use
  • bargaining
  • lying 
  • thinking of ways to control drug use
  • looking for opportunities to use
  • planning the relapse

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is sometimes divided into two parts: a lapse, or using the drug once, and relapse, or when use becomes uncontrolled. A physical relapse often begins because a person believes they have an opportunity to use the drug without getting caught.

Once a person lapses and uses the drug once, they may get caught up in obsessive or uncontrollable thoughts about taking meth. These thoughts frequently lead to compulsive use. 

Meth Relapse Warning Signs

The sooner a person recognizes these signs, the better their chance of successfully avoiding or recovering from relapse and returning to a stable recovery.

As relapse accelerates, a person’s behaviors and daily routines can rapidly shift to accommodate frequent episodes of drug use. At this time, they might exhibit the following red flags of meth relapse:

Acting secretive: When a person starts using drugs again, they will likely go to great lengths to hide it. A person may act evasive and give vague responses when asked about plans or people they hang out with. They might also become very protective about their personal space.

Changes in behavior: Prior to and during a relapse, a person’s behavior and day-to-day routines can radically change. At first this shift might be gradual, but as drug use becomes more frequent, a person may begin to act in unpredictable and uncharacteristic ways. 

Mood changes: Meth can cause mood swings and mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and paranoia. The shame a person feels for relapsing may also contribute to a low mood. 

Ignoring self-care: Healthy habits of self-care are a critical part of a balanced recovery. Ignoring these habits can be a major sign of substance abuse. A person may not eat or sleep well. They may also look unkempt and unclean, as they fail to bathe, wear clean clothes, or brush their teeth.

Defensiveness: If a person has started using meth again, they may become inappropriately upset or defensive when questioned about their drug use. 

Denial: If a person is experiencing large amounts of stress, temptation, or feeling weak in their recovery, they may try to act as if everyone is okay. If a loved one addresses these situations, a person may be dismissive about their concerns. 

A new circle of friends: Pushing close friends and family members away is a common sign of drug use. At this time, a person may adopt new friends or start hanging out with people who use or sell meth. They might also take up with old friends who they previously used the drug with.

Paraphernalia: Meth requires equipment, or paraphernalia, to use it. A person may have a glass pipe, aluminum foil, needles or syringes, and cut straws or hollowed-out pens. Finding any of these can be a major sign of meth relapse.

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Meth Relapse Symptoms

When a person starts using meth again, they will commonly exhibit physical and mental signs of abuse, including:

  • anxiety
  • dilated pupils
  • energy surges
  • increased breathing rate 
  • jaw clenching
  • nausea and vomiting 
  • paranoia
  • poor appetite  
  • sleeplessness
  • skin sores
  • talkativeness 
  • tremors
  • unpredictable behavior

Meth is commonly used in binges, or back-to-back doses. Because of this, a person may not eat or sleep for long periods of time. 

Meth Relapse Triggers

Triggers are people, environments, situations, thoughts, and emotions that create urges or cravings to use drugs.  

Seemingly harmless activities of daily life, such as handling money, going to the ATM, listening to a certain song, or watching a movie that has drug use in it can trigger thoughts of meth use. 

Places where a person went to buy drugs or use them, such as certain neighborhoods, a friend’s house, or clubs may also elicit these urges. Seeing drug-abusing peers or people who sold meth can act as major triggers as well.

Other common relapse triggers for meth include:

  • isolation or loneliness 
  • job stress
  • mental health problems
  • paraphernalia 
  • problems at school
  • relationship conflicts 
  • social or peer pressure
  • stress

One study found that individuals who had a parent with a substance use disorder or who took part in the sale of meth relapsed sooner than those who did not.

Meth Relapse Prevention

Research has found that enrolling in additional treatment or taking part in a self-help group after rehab can strengthen abstinence.

Learning how to anticipate and cope with relapse triggers can help a person avoid triggering situations and stay strong in the face of temptation should they encounter one.

The following tips can also help a person stay focused on their recovery:

Learn from it: Instead of viewing a lapse as a failure, it can be beneficial to look at it as a learning experience. 

Trying to determine when, how, and why a lapse happened can give a person insight so that they can avoid a trigger in the future. It can also help them build an action plan in case they encounter these circumstances again. 

Create a relapse prevention plan: The best drug rehab programs help their clients create personalized relapse prevention plans during treatment, however, like other parts of recovery, this plan can change over time.

Updating a relapse prevention plan to include changes in triggers, coping skills, or a support network can help a person be at the ready, should temptation arise. Having names of people to contact in this situation or places to go for help can be a valuable resource.

When complete, sharing this plan with sponsors, close friends, or family can help keep a person accountable. 

Identify high-risk situations: Identifying and avoiding places or events that a person associates with meth use can help them to avoid environmental relapse triggers. 

Build a strong support network: People with strong support networks often have better success both within and after treatment. 

Forming positive and meaningful relationships can help keep a person inspired and focused on their recovery goals. It also provides a great source of accountability. Peer support or self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, can be great resources at this time.

Stress-reduction techniques: Stress is one of the biggest triggers of relapse. The stress of daily life can become intense, especially for a person newly in recovery. Stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, can help a person handle stress in a healthy and productive way.

Aftercare programs: The first year of recovery can be the most trying for many people. Taking part in an aftercare program can be highly beneficial and protective at this time. Remaining active in recovery beyond this period is critical as well. 

The best drug rehab centers offer aftercare support to their treatment graduates. Many communities have accessible aftercare resources as well, like self-help groups or therapy.

Find A Treatment Program For Meth Relapse

A single lapse or minor relapse may be treated in an outpatient setting, however, individuals with a history of chronic relapse may be best treated in an inpatient drug rehab program, a format that offers a more intensive level of care.

Enrolling in treatment after a relapse gives a person a great opportunity to reconnect to the recovery community. It also provides them with a chance to develop coping skills that address the unique circumstances of their life. 

While relapse can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Long-lasting recovery from meth addiction is possible.

Contact Addiction Campuses today for more information on meth relapse and treatment options.

Sources

Center for Substance Abuse Research — Methamphetamine 

Mayo Clinic — Relapse Prevention and Follow-Up

ScienceDaily — Opioid users could benefit from meth-relapse prevention strategy, study finds

UC Davis Health — Brain functions that can prevent relapse improve after a year of methamphetamine abstinence

US National Library of Medicine — Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery, Time to relapse following treatment for methamphetamine use: a long-term perspective on patterns and predictors

 

Center for Substance Abuse Research - http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayo.edu/research/documents/040113a-relapse-prevention-and-follow-up-poteruchapdf/doc-10022883

ScienceDaily - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180917111542.htm

UC Davis Health - https://health.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/20090819_brain_meth/index.html

US National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4550209/

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