What To Do After Relapse

Michelle Rosenker

August 23, 2019

Being in recovery feels like a gift, especially after living through active addiction. If you are in recovery, you know just how important it is and how much effort it takes to maintain your sobriety. The physical act of no longer abusing drugs or alcohol is not what keeps you in recovery—it’s the work you do to help keep you from using again. However, as with other diseases, there is the potential for relapse. (In fact, the rate of relapse in addiction recovery resembles the rates of other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.)

If relapse occurs, it should not be seen as a failure of character or the individual’s morality. Relapse is actually a normal part of recovery, just as with any other disease.  Someone with diabetes may be doing everything he or she can to maintain good health, but still wind up relapsing due to external and controllable factors. When this happens, people with diabetes can work with their healthcare providers to get back on track.

The same opportunities are available if you relapse into substance abuse. Knowing what to do if you do relapse is the key to getting back on your feet.

What is a Relapse and How Does It Occur?

Put simply, a relapse is when a person in recovery from substance abuse falls back into using. Some in recovery might find that if they do relapse, they are able to regain control of their recovery quickly, while others struggle to stop using again. A relapse can be a one-time thing or it can be something that occurs several times in one’s recovery. Everyone is unique and faces his or her own personal challenges.

Relapse can occur for several reasons. Generally, people do not relapse “out of the blue,” but end up going through stages of relapse that end with them using again. These stages include:

  • Emotional relapse. This occurs when unhealthy emotions, thoughts, and behaviors occur and nothing is done about them, which allows them to fester until the next stage of relapse occurs.
  • Mental Relapse. Coming on the heels of emotional relapse, mental relapse is when you begin thinking about using again but go back and forth in your mind between doing so and maintaining your recovery.
  • Physical relapse. Physical relapse occurs when you have not appropriately tended to or ignored your recovery needs and go back to drinking or using drugs.

Because relapse happens progressively, it is possible to prevent it from occurring. However, this isn’t easy, as evidenced by how common relapse is. If you are in recovery and experience relapse, it does not mean that everything you have worked for is erased. Instead, it serves as an opportunity for you to take action so that you can continue in your recovery.

What to do after relapse

Taking Action After a Relapse

Sitting back and doing nothing after relapsing is the most dangerous thing you can do, as ignoring the need for help will only lead you back into the depths of your addiction. If you relapse, there are things that you can do.

Ask for help

You may feel guilty or shameful as a result of your relapse, but you can’t let that get in the way of reaching out for help. Letting a friend or family member know what has happened can get you moving back towards recovery, as you are not attempting to hide your actions but being honest about them.

Contact those who helped get you into recovery, such as the professionals at the treatment center you attended or members of your support group. Depending on the severity of your relapse, these people can guide you towards recovery once again, either by suggesting further treatment or becoming more involved in outside groups.

Address your physical needs

After experiencing a relapse, it is critical that you determine if your relapse warrants a return to detox. Making attempts to detox on your own can be overwhelming, which may lead you to continue using. However, getting support from a detox center can help you stay on course and prevent further substance abuse.

Identify the cause of the relapse

In order to prevent another relapse, try spending some time figuring out what caused you to relapse in the first place. Identifying the causes and addressing them can be done most successfully with a therapist who can guide you through this process.

Re-examine your outlets

Relapse often occurs when someone does not care for him or herself in ways that support the release of emotions that have the potential to trigger a relapse. If you experience a relapse, it may be time to look again at what your outlets have. You may find that whatever outlets you have now—a specific activity or hobby, say—might not be meeting your needs. If that’s the case, try taking some time to implement new outlets for your emotions. They might just be what prevents you from relapsing again.

Of course, you can also try attending more support group meetings, redeveloping your relapse plan, sharpening the skills you learned while in treatment, and spending time working on being more assertive so that your needs do not again go unmet.

Get Help Before It Is Too Late

There’s never a bad time to reach out and ask for help, whether you’ve been in recovery for days or decades. At JourneyPure Clarksville, we can help you regain control of your addiction so that you do not slip back into dangerous substance abuse.