Recovering From a Relapse
Recovery from addiction is an ongoing journey, and relapse is often a part of that process.
Relapse shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but rather as an opportunity for learning and growth.
Learn more about relapse, including:
- What is relapse?
- Causes of relapse.
- Relapse recovery for specific drugs.
- How to handle relapse.
- Find a recovery program.
What Is a Relapse?
Helpline Information to find a treatment program to help you or your loved one recover from a relapse.
Relapsing, or returning to drug or alcohol use, often occurs during the recovery process. The percentage of recovering addicts that relapse during recovery is similar to that of medical disorders, such as high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes. 1 An estimated 40% to 60% of those in recovery relapse at some point.1
If you relapse, you are not alone. Many other people have gone through the same thing. A relapse episode may indicate that you need a new type of addiction treatment or that your current treatment plan needs to be adjusted.
Causes of Relapse
A recovering addict may relapse for many different reasons. Some of the most common causes of relapse include:
- Avoiding the symptoms of acute and post-acute withdrawal.
- Exposure to drugs or alcohol.
- The presence of triggers associated with drug or alcohol use (e.g., encountering paraphernalia, non-sober friends, an old dealer, previous locations of use).
- The belief that you can use again in moderation after a period of sobriety.
- Negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, or boredom.
- Crisis situations.
- Times of celebration.
Everyone deals with emotions and circumstances differently. Try to remain positive throughout your recovery process, including after a relapse, and to surround yourself with a strong support system.
Relapse Recovery and Prevention for Specific Drugs
Learn more about strategies to prevent and recover from a relapse on:
- Crystal meth.
How to Deal With a Relapse
Helpline Information to speak to a treatment support specialist about relapse prevention and recovery programs. A specialist can offer options based on your insurance.
If you or someone you love relapses on drugs or alcohol, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean that the user will necessarily return to chronic and debilitating use.
After a relapse, you can take the following actions:
- Stop drinking or using drugs: The sooner you stop using, the easier it will be to get sober again.
- Recognize the seriousness of the relapse: Even if the relapse was small, acknowledge that returning to drug or alcohol use can have severe consequences.
- Think about why it happened: If you can pinpoint the reason for the relapse, you will be better equipped to prevent relapse in the future. Questions to ask include: Was the relapse related to a specific event? Were you bored? Were you having problems with a job, family, or friends? Was there a crisis?
- Contact someone for help: Reach out to a sponsor, therapist, friend, or family member. Don’t keep your relapse to yourself – it will only make things worse.
- Get back into treatment: Even if you’ve completed a recovery program, you can always learn something new. Perhaps the previous treatment wasn’t the right fit and you need to discuss other rehab options with an addiction professional, therapist, or your sponsor. Minor relapses or slip-ups require minor interventions, such as a course of intensive outpatient treatment, while major, long-lasting relapses may require detox and inpatient rehab. Some recovery programs offer refresher courses, or the program will tailor treatment to your particular needs and situation if you relapse. Select treatment centers may even allow you to come back cost-free if you relapse after completing a 90-day program. Ask about each program’s policies.
- Consider whether there is an undiagnosed mental illness or trauma. A co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness (also known as a dual diagnosis) may require a comprehensive program that can treat both conditions simultaneously.
- Medications can also be used to help manage your cravings, depending on the drug of abuse. Disulfiram (Antabuse) and acamprosate may be used to help with alcohol abuse, while methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone may be used to help with opioid abuse.
Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan
Relapse prevention plans consist of ongoing addiction treatment and education that helps you to build and use healthy coping skills. Plans may vary depending on the specific type of substance addiction.
If you don’t currently follow a relapse prevention plan, consider developing one, either with the help of a treatment team, therapist, or sponsor.
A relapse prevention plan could include any of the following:
- Seeing a therapist on a regular basis
- Going to 12-step meetings and getting a sponsor to help guide you
- Learning to identify and manage triggers and high-risk situations
- Leading a balanced life, including regular exercise, a healthy diet, hobbies, meditation, and mindfulness
- Building a strong support network of people you can trust and avoiding negative people
- Entering a sober living program, if necessary
- Learning how to manage your cravings via cognitive reframing, challenging thoughts, thought-stopping, distraction, and urge surfing
Find a Recovery Program
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics.
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