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Relapse radar

What is most difficult to understand about recovery from drug and alcohol addiction is for any client or family involved is that – Relapse happens, and addicts have a high risk of relapse. We call is Relapse and remission, this is because addiction is a chronic disease. Anyone in recovery can be described as being in remission from their disease.

ASAM The American Society for Addiction Medicine, definitions are as follows;

Remission: A state of wellness where there is an abatement of signs and symptoms that characterize active addiction. Many individuals in a state remission state remain actively engaged in the process of recovery. Reduction in signs or symptoms constitutes improvement in a disease state, but remission involves a return to a level of functioning that is free of active symptoms and/or is marked by stability in the chronic signs and symptoms that characterize active addiction.

Relapse: A process in which an individual who has established abstinence or sobriety experiences recurrence of signs and symptoms of active addiction, often including resumption of the pathological pursuit of reward and/or relief through the use of substances and other behaviors. When in relapse, there is often disengagement from recovery activities. Relapse can be triggered by exposure to rewarding substances and behaviors, by exposure to environmental cues to use, and by exposure to emotional stressors that trigger heightened activity in brain stress circuits. The event of using or acting out is the latter part of the process, which can be prevented by early intervention.


It is important for the addict, family members and loved ones to be prepared for this.  But it isn’t a hopeless situation oran absolute given. Many people try to cope with their triggers and cravings by gritting their teeth and toughing it out. Some urges, especially when you first return to your old environment, are too strong to ignore.

So relapse awareness work is a fundamental part of treatment in-order to ensure you maintain your gains in treatment and your new life.

This involves finding new ways of taking care of your self, developing new approaches to life and new ways of thinking and behaving, especially socially and finding alternative ways to cope with difficult situations. The following exercise will help you make an effective plan.

Plot on the graph below in the 4 key areas of your life, Livelihood – Health – Love – Social

the following

  1. Risks in outer circle
  2. Triggers in second circle
  3. Cravings in third layer
  4. Relaspe in the centre

With the proberble Relapse in the centre of the Radar, this diagram will show how Relapse is a process not an event and can be prevented.

Relapse Radar

Relapse Radar

Relapse Radar was a phase coined by our head counsellor Dylan Kerr, so we created this exercise to follow. A recovering person should have their Relapse Radar on at all times in order to see it coming.

This tool is a visual exercise which is more readily remembered than lists.

Relapse Warning Signs

To stop drinking or taking drugs you best get away from old associates “people places and things” that trigger you to want to use drugs and alcohol again. Hope Counselors call this “getting into a healthy environment.” If you hang out with friends who are drinking and using drugs your chances of staying in recovery are almost zero. Ideally you will choose to be around healthy people, places, and things that encourage a new life. When someone newly out of treatment starts going back to the old using and drinking associates and environments we call this an Early warning sign. 

A successful treatment and rehabilitation program will make sure that you learn strategies and techniques to help avoid the triggers that can cause relapse.  They will also teach you to recognize the stages of relapse and specific coping skills that will help successfully manage these stages.

It important for you to be educated.  The last thing you want is to struggle again with the pain and discouragement of active addiction and alcoholism.  Working to get to the point of recovery is difficult work and you don’t want to lose ground, if at all possible.

Relapse radar by Simon Mott

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