Complacency is a false sense of safety when in danger. For victims of addiction, that danger is addiction.

This danger varies from minimal to significant, depending on the type of addiction, the addiction severity, recovery skills, and life skills. Life skills include managing stress, living a balanced life, taking accountability, living with integrity, and loving. For the more fortunate, complacency may not be an issue; they can stop addicting and never feel an urge to addict again.

A small number of people can go back to moderate drinking. This raises the question of whether they had an addiction in the first place. People with behavioral addictions who need to eat, work, have sex, and use the computer face a special challenge, as they need to practice engaging in these behaviors in nonaddictive ways. They do this by practicing mindfulness, renouncing engaging in these behaviors addictively, and addressing the “dis-ease” that drives them to addict.

For most victims of addiction, however, complacency can be lethal. You may feel the monkey is off your back, but he is still there, just sleeping. A drink or a drug is always just an arm’s length away, while an addictive act is just one bad decision away. It is very important to keep a healthy fear of relapse for the rest of your life.

Addiction changes the brain in ways we only partially understand. In vulnerable people, addictive substances and behaviors permanently turn on genes associated with craving and loss of control. This is why for most, “once you have addiction, forever you have addiction.” Addiction may be active or in remission, but your brain is permanently altered. If you return to your addiction and try to control it, you find you have already lost control. This can be devastating. While another opportunity for relapse exists, another opportunity for recovery may not. People have a finite number of second chances. Too often, relapse ends up being fatal. Knowing this can help stave off complacency.

No one wants to be “damaged” or “defective.” You may be vulnerable to feeling shame about your addiction, feeling you should be free of addiction to be whole. You may link your self-esteem to an unconscious need to be free of imperfections, including addiction. Unless you accept your flawed nature as being part of an unseen perfection, you will be vulnerable to shame.  This will drive you to deny the disease of addiction once you are abstinent. As Nietzsche said, “you give things power when you deny their existence.” This is true for addiction. Humbly surrender to the truth of your lifelong vulnerability to addiction. It is said sobriety is a gift, the price being eternal vigilance. Once you believe you are free of addiction and everything is okay, it’s not.

Remember the “never again” rule for drug and alcohol addiction. For most people who have suffered from addiction, once they stop addicting, they can never drink or drug again. Using ensures a slip or relapse. Though you may address the drives that brought you to addiction, you will never stop being vulnerable to the addiction itself if you addict. Addicting will cause you to make poor decisions, as the addiction is now running the show—not you. It is no longer you working according to what is in your best interest. The addiction takes over and makes you behave according to the addiction’s best interest, not yours. Remember addiction is an illness that says you are okay. Addiction says the problem is not within you. It says the problem is people, places, and things. This is why you cannot addict again once sober. For if you do, addiction’s veil of denial will descend over you, leading you back towards destruction and death.

Keep a healthy fear of your vulnerability to relapse. Beware of feeling that addiction is behind you forever. Always remember that complacency can kill.