10 Tips for What to Do After Relapse Occurs

Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction can be a difficult journey, one with plenty of ups and downs. While the road to recovery never ends, it does become more familiar as you practice the recovery steps.

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Unfortunately, relapse is a very real outcome in recovery and addiction treatment. Because addiction is a chronic disease, the likelihood of relapse is high. Between 40 percent and 60 percent of people who undergo drug addiction treatment will relapse. The rate of relapse after treatment for alcohol abuse is around 90 percent.

overcome-relapseRelapse can be a natural part of the recovery process for many people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. If you have suffered a relapse, and you’re worried about what the future holds, you are not alone. More importantly, you can regain your sobriety and continue your path to recovery.

Through ongoing treatment and other strategies, you can successfully overcome your relapse. Changes and adjustments in treatment may be necessary, but it is possible to continue to see great progress, even after a relapse. The event of a relapse does not mean the progress you’ve made is lost. It also doesn’t mean your treatment has failed. It simply means you have a new opportunity to recover from your addiction in a healthy and productive way. Now you need to make changes to your recovery plan to get you where you belong: back on the road to sobriety.

What Causes Relapse?

Before you can move forward after a relapse, it’s important to look at why the relapse occurred in the first place. When you know why you relapsed, you can adjust your treatment plan to focus on the factors that challenge your long-term recovery.

The most common reasons why relapse occurs after addiction treatment include:

  • A lack of adequate planning when transitioning from the treatment facility to home — When you transition from treatment to home, you need extra support during this time. This may include attending meetings and support groups more frequently or working one on one with an aftercare specialist.


  • An ineffective aftercare plan that doesn’t address you on every level — Addiction affects every part of you: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Once you transition back home, you need to ensure you remain strong on all levels.
  • Hanging on to hope that one day you will be able to use again without becoming addicted — If you have not fully accepted the fact you cannot use again without derailing your recovery, you will be more likely to succumb to the cravings.
  • A lack of a social network to rely on for support after treatment — When you get clean, you need to develop a new social network. You’ll need friends who don’t use and support your recovery. Staying in touch with your positive friends is as important as avoiding the ones you used to use with.
  • Not treating a dual diagnosis — Often, a mental or behavioral health issue exists alongside an addiction, called a dual diagnosis. Many people with a mental or behavioral health issue will self-medicate, which leads to addiction. If you don’t treat the issue, you are more likely to relapse in an attempt to feel better.
  • The failure to set realistic expectations before entering drug treatment — You need to have realistic expectations when you start your path to recovery. Accept that you won’t make progress overnight. The reality is it will take months, if not years, to feel as if you’re in total control of your addiction.
  • Turning to unhealthy addiction substitutes — If you have an addiction and don’t address the underlying issues that led to it, you can transfer your addiction to another activity, such as exercise or work. Only when you heal on every level and reveal what led to using can you gain the control you need to live a healthy life.
  • Failure to anticipate the challenges that will occur after addiction treatment — Once you return home, you will face many challenges. All life changes — whether they are positive or negative — can shake your resolve. During recovery, you need to plan for life stressors so you have the tools you need to face them in a healthy way.


This list only scratches the surface of the many reasons why someone may relapse after drug or alcohol treatment. Often relapse occurs because of a combination of these and other reasons. Having a better understanding of what causes relapse will make it easier to prevent it and treat it if it does occur.

Most Common Addiction Relapse Triggers

When considering the reasons why relapse occurs, there is a category called “triggers.” These are events or situations that will cause the brain to revert to drug and alcohol habits. These triggers or cues can include:

  • Attending parties
  • Going to the bar or pub with friends
  • Stressful situations at work
  • Tumultuous relationships
  • Watching films and TV shows that glorify drugs or alcohol
  • Family events
  • Emotional stress, depression and anxiety

By practicing relapse prevention techniques, you can develop ways to avoid these triggers altogether or discover how to deal with them in a way that supports your recovery.

What to Do After a Relapse: 10 Steps to Get You Back on Track

While preventing relapse is the best way to ensure a smooth path to recovery, sometimes it isn’t possible. If you or someone you know has suffered a relapse, there are some critical steps to take after relapse occurs. These tips will help you get control of your addiction again instead of the other way around.

1. Take Responsibility

Ultimately, it is up to each individual to adjust their lifestyle and take responsibility for their actions. While this is a recovery step that requires daily practice, it’s important to apply this thinking immediately after a relapse.

In the event of a relapse, you need to accept the fact you made a mistake. You can’t understate the gravity of the relapse — you must admit to yourself you are using again. This level of self-accountability will also sustain your motivation during the initial stages after a relapse. Only when you accept the fact you need help can you get the help you need.


2. Act Immediately

Taking action immediately after a relapse is vital to getting back on the road to recovery. Right after relapse, remind yourself why you began recovery treatment in the first place. This will give you the strength and motivation you need to focus on getting back into recovery.

Anticipate the next steps you need to take and don’t delay in taking them. Act quickly to focus on your recovery again, so your addiction can’t continue.

By waiting too long, old habits and thought patterns will begin to work their way back into your life. You may even begin to feel as if it would be easier to give into your old habits and behaviors because starting recovery again seems too hard. Taking immediate action to get back onto your recovery path will prevent these negative habits from taking hold again.


3. Reach out to Your Support Network

Having a strong support network is vital to addiction recovery. The level of support a person receives in the months following their initial drug treatment will play a key role in preventing or causing a relapse to occur during this vulnerable time.

Not only do you need support during and following treatment, you also need support when a relapse occurs. Reaching out right away to your support network will greatly influence whether or not you take the steps to get back on track after a relapse.

Drug treatment research has shown that the level and quality of support and aftercare directly determines how people who have relapsed will fair after the event. Often, those who do not receive adequate support after a relapse will choose not to continue with treatment. One of the most important ways to prevent and treat a relapse is through social support.

4. Start Recovery Actions

Once you’re able to refocus your mind on recovery, and you’ve taken responsibility for your actions, you should reach out to your sponsor. Share your experience openly and honestly. Remember to withhold judgment of yourself and stay positive about the opportunity that lies ahead to get back on track. Firmly state to yourself and your sponsor that you are committed to your recovery and will make it your sole priority.

As you work with your sponsor to begin your recovery steps again, it may feel as though you are starting at square one. You may be inclined to skip certain steps. Remind yourself that you are in a different place now than you were when you began recovery. Though the steps may seem repetitive, you have changed and can benefit in new ways when you take the steps again.

5. Get Professional Addiction Recovery Help

The help of a strong support system such as friends, family, community members and a sponsor is very beneficial after a relapse. To fully address your relapse and get back on your path to recovery, however, you need professional addiction treatment. Nothing can replace the knowledge, care and individual recovery planning that a professional can provide.

An addiction specialist can:

  • Help you design a customized treatment plan for your specific needs
  • Continue to provide monitoring, support and adjustment to your recovery plan as needed
  • Give you relapse prevention tools that you can use daily
  • Conduct and organize family counseling and support meetings to ensure stability at home
  • Encourage empowerment and self-reliance as a healthy base for your new lifestyle
  • Advise on an aftercare plan once the initial rehabilitation program has ended
  • Continue the open discussion about your recovery progress

With the expert help of an addiction specialist, you can deal with the relapse, begin the recovery process anew and prevent future relapses.

6. Make a New Plan

It’s important to understand that relapse doesn’t mean your drug or alcohol abuse treatment plan has failed. It simply means you need to revise your plan. Consider relapse to be a natural stage of recovery and don’t let it keep you down.

With help from your support network and addiction treatment specialist, analyze why your relapse has occurred. Once you know why it occurred, you can adjust your treatment plan to address these triggers.

You may decide you need to recommit to your recovery by entering treatment again. With intensive treatment, you have the opportunity to focus fully on your recovery. You’ll build your foundation again, so when you transition back home, you’ll have the tools you need to face life challenges.

7. Repair Your Relationships

relationshipsIt’s likely that your relapse has impacted your loved ones, including your friends, family and spouse. Once you’ve taken steps toward recovery, it’s important to address the relationships that may have been damaged during relapse. Explain what occurred and what you are doing to get back on track. It’s important to also explain how your relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and you will be taking further action to prevent relapse from happening again.

To repair your personal relationships, consider:

  • Writing personal letters to your loved ones explaining how you feel and apologizing for the hurt you caused
  • Spending quality time to reconnect with the people you love
  • Inviting your loved ones to join you in family therapy

If you can demonstrate to those closest to you that you are making an effort to include them in your recovery, then you will start to feel more motivated to continue. You will strengthen your bonds, which can support you on your path to lifelong recovery.

8. Expect Struggle and Discomfort

Whether you decide to enter intensive drug treatment, or you implement an outpatient care plan, you need to be prepared for struggle and discomfort. Coming back from a relapse can be a difficult process. It can stir up painful emotions and uncomfortable physical symptoms. As your body detoxes after a traumatic relapse, you may begin to feel new levels of guilt and shame.

During the initial phase after a relapse, you may feel:

  • Lower self-esteem
  • Self-doubt
  • Perceived judgment by others
  • Fatigue and lack of motivation
  • Aggression and irritation, sometimes even outbursts of emotional distress

Although relapse recovery can be difficult, it is well worth the work. You can take back your life from addiction and get to a place where you feel proud and fulfilled.

9. Learn From the Experience

Though relapse can be a traumatic experience, it gives you the opportunity to learn about yourself, your disease and what’s required to take back control. With the help of your social support network and addiction treatment specialist, you can reflect on what your relapse has taught you and what you can do to improve your health. A deep period of reflection will be a satisfying and liberating stage of your recovery.


Some of the takeaways from a relapse may include:

  • Gaining the ability to recognize triggers and learn how to prevent them from affecting you
  • Noticing how the strength of a solid support network vastly improves your ability to stay on track
  • Embracing new healthy behaviors in your lifestyle
  • Assessing what really makes you happy and the new direction you hope to take in your life
  • Reflecting on your personal relationships and how they become more rewarding when you live clean
  • Developing better communication skills with health professionals, your family and community

10. Anticipate New Challenges

After you’ve spent time reflecting on your relapse, you will be able to look ahead and predict the challenges you may face in the future. Predicting upcoming challenges will equip you with a more in-depth plan for dealing with potential relapse. This practice adds another level to your focus and commitment to your recovery. It allows your mind to see exactly how you will handle upcoming challenges such as:

  • Triggers and drug/alcohol abuse cues
  • Emotional stress
  • Social pressures
  • Financial challenges
  • Physical illness
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Family pressures


If you can predict the possible challenges you will face, your mind will be better equipped to handle them in healthy and constructive ways when they occur. Use what you’ve learned from your relapse to plan how you will face challenges as they continue to arise. This repeated and constant practice will help carve new patterns in your behavior and thinking, which is what addiction recovery is ultimately about.

Breaking the Relapse-Cycle With Addiction Relapse Prevention

If you’ve suffered a relapse, it’s important to look at this event as a learning experience. You’re now better equipped to handle your recovery and achieve success, because you know what not to do and what to look out for.

To break the cycle and prevent another relapse from happening, you should:

  • Choose a long-term treatment program — Understanding that recovery is a long-term process will help you mentally prepare for the journey ahead. By committing to a long-term program, you’re committing to your success in recovery.
  • Strengthen your support network — Like your recovery itself, building and maintaining your support network requires commitment and dedication. Continue to focus on the benefits you receive from a strong community of friends, family and others who share your experience. Make a point to spend time with those who support you.
  • Cut ties with negative influences — Though it’s easier said than done, it’s crucial to only keep positive influences in your life. You must put your recovery and health first. This includes eliminating toxic relationships that don’t support your recovery.
  • stress-managementFocus on creating your new lifestyle — Maintain focus on what your new lifestyle looks like, who it includes and how you behave. Make sure this includes a healthy diet, plenty of physical activity, a foundation of spiritual well-being and plenty of rest.
  • Prioritize stress management — After a relapse occurs, stress, anxiety and depression are common feelings during this time of transition. It’s important to practice stress management, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the process. Meditation, mindfulness, nature walks and keeping a journal are all effective techniques that help you stay calm and keep your mind positive.

If You’ve Relapsed, 12 Keys Can Help

Remember that a relapse doesn’t mean failure — it simply means you need to adjust your recovery plan. Though it may initially feel like failure, it isn’t considered a failure if you follow these steps to get back on track. Remember to discuss relapse prevention techniques and make this a key area of focus in your revised recovery plan.

While relapse can occur at any time, the 60- to 90-day period after initial recovery is the most vulnerable time. That’s why 12 Keys offers comprehensive and customized aftercare support. We also encourage clients at any stage of their recovery to seek intensive treatment with our empathetic and experienced addiction specialists. With our help, you can recover from your relapse and grow stronger and healthier from it. Contact us today if you’ve relapsed or are headed in that direction.

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