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What Should I Do After a Relapse?

What Should I Do After a Relapse?, After a Relapse

Recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is a lifelong journey that takes commitment and hard work. Just like other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, addiction is a disease in which relapse is possible and even likely. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 to 60 percent of people struggling with alcohol or drug addiction will relapse.

What is a Relapse?

A relapse occurs when a medical condition that has previously improved worsens. When relapse refers to drug or alcohol addiction, it means the individual is using drugs or drinking alcohol again after a period of abstinence. Although relapse is serious, it is not an insurmountable setback. A relapse does not mean you are a failure. It does not mean the progress you have made so far is lost. It does not mean your treatment did not work. It does mean you need to evaluate your treatment plan and make the necessary changes to feel supported and empowered as you move forward.  

I Relapsed. What Should I Do?

If you have relapsed, do not panic. A relapse can occur to anyone in recovery, whether they have three months or ten years of sobriety. Rather than blaming yourself or others, take action to overcome your setback as soon as you can.

  • Stop Immediately: Some people feel that since they have relapsed, they might as well give up on recovery and keep using. This is a self-defeating way of thinking. You have not failed, and you must not think that way as an excuse to continue substance abuse. Stop the harmful behavior and remind yourself of your progress before the relapse. Get ready to get yourself back on the road to recovery.
  • Take Responsibility: It is normal and understandable to be disappointed or upset with yourself after a relapse. But try not to let humiliation, guilt, or shame creep in. Instead, calmly evaluate the situation that led to your decision to drink or use drugs again. Consider your behavior, choices, and attitudes before the relapse. You cannot change the past, but you can learn from it. Acknowledge your mistake and move forward.
  • Reach out to Your Support Network: A strong support network is a vital aspect of addiction recovery. Reach out to your family, friends, 12-Step sponsor, and other positive influences. Be honest with them and let them help you develop a plan to move forward. Being with people who love you will remind you that you are not alone.
  • Attend a 12-Step Meeting: 12-Step groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide a safe place where you can talk about your relapse without judgment. You have the opportunity to learn from others who have relapsed how they coped with their situations.
  • Identify and Avoid Triggers: Reassess your triggers and identify any new ones you developed. After a relapse, being around triggers can cause increased drug and alcohol cravings. Evaluate your strategies for avoiding relapse triggers.
  • Consider Returning to Addiction Treatment: Returning to addiction treatment after a relapse depends on the circumstances surrounding the relapse and its severity. There is a big difference between a relapse that lasted a day or two and one that lasted a month or two. Call an admissions counselor to discuss your options.
  • Manage Stress Levels: Learning healthy, effective ways of dealing with stress is essential for your recovery. Several techniques that can help you manage both acute and long-term stress include meditation, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, and yoga.
  • Practice Good Self-Care: Taking good care of yourself, mentally and physically, is a critical part of recovery. Adopting a healthy lifestyle includes having a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep. But practicing good self-care means more than that. It means treating yourself kindly. Be good to yourself. Take time to have fun. Do things you enjoy. Whether you want to relax in the sun and read a book, soak in a bubble bath, or play with your pet, do it. When you do what makes you happy, you feel grounded and can handle stressful situations when needed.

Get the Help You Need

Are you or a loved one struggling with drug or alcohol addiction? If you are, help is available. Our skilled professionals at Anabranch Recovery Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, will guide you through your recovery. We offer a range of programs, including detox, residential treatment, and a family program. Contact us to learn how we can help.

About the author

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.