Steering Clear of a Relapse

Most drug and alcohol rehab programs provide their clients with some type of guide or advice regarding what to do to prevent a relapse from occurring. When actively involved in treatment and squarely focused on getting help for addiction, a client may have trouble imagining a relapse might occur. Unfortunately, relapse can occur, so it is important to be prepared so you can recover quickly.

Does Relapse Mean You Have Failed?

Addiction relapse is not the same thing as failure. Living with a chronic disease is not easy, and relapse rates for people living with addiction are similar to other illnesses, such as asthma, hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes, according to

Treating someone for drug or alcohol addiction involves getting to the core of coping behaviors, which may have been in place for years. A relapse does not mean treatment did not work or there is no hope for a lasting recovery. It means an addict has slipped and needs to go back to treatment, start to use the strategies learned in treatment again, or try a different form of treatment.

Transitioning from a Treatment Program to Independent Living

The environment you find yourself in when you are in a 30,- 60- or 90-day rehab program is much different from that which awaits you when you are at home and making decisions on your own. You don’t have the same level of structure that treatment programs provide, and while you do have access to support through follow-up services, it is not the same as having a counselor readily available.

Independent living is exciting, but you will need to take some steps on your own to help ensure you stay alcohol and drug-free. The following tips for staying sober are meant to remind you that you are on a continuing journey. Sobriety is not a once and done achievement. You have to work for it every single day.

10 Tips for Avoiding Addiction Relapse

1. Avoid Things That Might Tempt You to Drink Alcohol or Use Drugs


During your treatment, you will learn what types of things are your personal “triggers” that tend to set you off and make you think about drinking or using drugs. The exact triggers will vary from person to person, but some common ones include emotional factors, such as:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Frustration

Environmental factors may include:

  • Being around friends who drink or do drugs
  • Walking or driving past old “watering holes” or places where you used to buy drugs
  • Going to parties or social events where people are drinking or using drugs

When you are thinking about how to avoid addiction relapse, it is especially important to avoid things that might tempt you during the early phase of your recovery. Some people decide to take an alternate route to work or school to avoid going past a bar they used to frequent if it means a lower risk of having to deal with triggers. The same strategy will work for people in recovery who decide to avoid a particular address or even a neighborhood.

You can decide not to accept invitations if you feel it might pose a risk to your sobriety. No party or social event is worth putting you at risk. Don’t feel you have to explain yourself, either. Just say, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to attend,” or something to that effect.

2. Develop a Support Network, and Use It

If your goal is to find ways to stay drug free when you feel as though your resolve is being tested, you’ll need support to keep your resolve in place. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help to stay on the path of sobriety when you are having cravings or are sad, lonely or frustrated.


In many instances, people end up in treatment after years of using their drug of choice as a coping mechanism. Even though a treatment program provides clients with new tools for dealing with strong emotions and a way to live a much healthier and more positive lifestyle, addiction is a chronic disease that is always in the background, waiting for a chance to take over a person’s life again.

Who can make up your support network? You can look to a number of people in your life for help when you need it:


  • Members of an addiction aftercare program
  • Your sponsor in a 12-step group
  • Members of your 12-step program
  • Counselor or therapist
  • Family members
  • Sober friends
  • Co-workers
  • Minister, pastor or rabbi
  • Employee assistance program (EAP) through your Work

There are many caring people around you who can listen and provide support when you need it. All you need to do is reach out to them.

3. Have a Plan for Sticky Situations

Rather than worry about what you would do if you happen to run into an old drinking buddy or if you are at a party and you start to feel uncomfortable because alcohol is being served, work out what you would do in these situations in advance. If you have a plan in place, you can take control, not your addiction.

You aren’t under any obligation to share the fact that you are in recovery if you don’t want to. Saying hello to someone on the street is a relatively low-risk encounter. You can easily extract yourself from the situation by saying you are on your way to work, but it was nice to see the other person again.

If you are going to a party or other social event, you’ll need to do a bit more planning. Offer to bring a dish and bring along something non-alcoholic you can drink. Make a point of mingling with the guests and helping out your host or hostess with setting out the food instead of spending time near the bar.

You may want to master the art of leaving a social event shortly after the meal is finished and cleaned up. When guests are at loose ends afterward, they tend to continue drinking, and this is the part of the evening when you may be most tempted. Enjoy your tea or coffee and dessert, help with cleaning up, and then thank your hosts for a wonderful evening.

4. Avoid Boredom


Why is avoiding boredom on the list of suggestions for avoiding an addiction relapse? Large blocks of time where you have nothing to do open the door to thinking about how you used to spend your time when you were actively addicted. You may start experiencing cravings or even begin to think it wouldn’t hurt to drink or use drugs “just this once.” That type of thinking opens the door to a slip, which can lead to a full-blown relapse and should be avoided at all costs.

Ideally, you should have a regular schedule you follow each day. It should include some time to go to work or school, attend counseling sessions and got to 12-step meetings. You should also set aside time to spend with family and friends.

There should be some free time built into your routine so you are not over-scheduled, as this is too stressful for anyone. When you do have some time to yourself, you should have ideas about how you can spend that time so you are not at loose ends. There are a number of hobbies and pastimes you can take up during recovery you will find relaxing and enjoyable.

For some people, taking a course or joining a club is a good first step to exploring new interests. Investigate options available in your community. The public library or your municipality may be a good place to start investigating your options.

5. Maintain a Healthy Diet


If you had a history of using drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time before entering treatment, more than likely your diet suffered. It’s very difficult to make good choices about nutrition while trying to feed an active addiction. The two simply don’t go well together.

Once you move into recovery, it’s important to feed your body good quality foods so you can return to good health. Eat a balanced diet that includes low-fat dairy products, lean cuts of meat and poultry, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Try to avoid eating at fast food restaurants, since many of these foods are full of salt, sugar and fat.

Learn to cook for yourself. This is a life skill everyone should know. Even if you have never cooked anything on your own, you can learn it. Start with some simple recipes and go to the store to select the ingredients yourself. You’ll be able to take pride in your handiwork, and the bonus is you get to eat it, too.

6. Make Friends Who Are Not Addicts

When your friends are fellow addicts, your disease is what you have in common. You will make choices about who you will want to spend time with based on whether your friends will be able to help you feed your addiction or at least support you in feeding it.

While you’re addicted, your family members and friends who are not addicts may start to fall away or let you know they have a problem with your drug or alcohol use. Addiction can make you deny you have a problem, make you lie to friends and family about frequently you are using drugs or alcohol, and also get you to make promises that you will stop, even if you don’t plan to.

The only people who probably didn’t give you a hard time about your drug or alcohol use were your friends who were also addicts. For this reason, they are not the right friends for you once you are in recovery if they are still using. You need to put yourself and your recovery first.

Getting clean and sober means moving forward and leaving your old lifestyle behind. This includes leaving behind friends who are addicts. Be open to meeting new people:

  • At work
  • By enrolling in adult courses
  • Going to the gym
  • Participating in sober activities organized by your 12-step group or other community organizations

7. Strengthen Your Willpower


Learn how to keep your stress levels under control. In the past, you may have been more impulsive when you had thoughts about using or you were experiencing feelings that made you feel uncomfortable. Now that you have been through rehab, you have hopefully developed tools to help you deal with those feelings so that you can ride them out instead of acting upon them immediately.

Meditation is an excellent technique for learning how to deal with stress and how to strengthen your willpower. You can use it anytime you find you are becoming irritated, angry or feeling as though things are closing in on you. During these kinds of episodes, you may be looking for something to take the edge off.

In the past, you may have turned to your drug of choice. This is no longer an option if you want to keep your sobriety intact. Meditation teaches you to get into a calm state so you can look at your current situation as a calm observer. Once you take a step back, it may be easier to ride out whatever is currently going on without falling into a relapse.

8. Continue With Therapy

When in recovery, you cannot allow yourself to become complacent and assume that your work is done. It is very important that you be involved in an aftercare program. There may still be issues you want to work on with a therapist in individual sessions after you complete your initial treatment. Digging down to the root causes of why you became addicted and resolving those issues is part of getting well.


You may find that group therapy is a format that works best for you once you have completed your initial treatment. This is also an option that can help you stay on track and avoid a relapse. Talking to the group about stresses in your life and getting support from fellow members can help to head off a relapse. You will need to commit to attending sessions regularly to get the most from this experience.

9. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep needs to be a priority for everyone, not just for people in recovery. The National Sleep Foundation published a report with sleep recommendations by age group. Young adults aged 18-25 should be getting 7-9 hours a night, adults aged 26-64 need 7-9 hours, and older adults (aged 65+) need 7-8 hours.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you face a number of short-term issues, including:

  • Difficulty staying alert
  • Problems with memory
  • Difficulty processing information
  • Moodiness

If you are under stress and not thinking clearly, you are more likely to make a decision you would not make if you were calm and relaxed. It only takes a moment to make a choice that interferes with your recovery, and for some people that leads to a slippery slope of full-fledged relapse.

10. Stop Putting Yourself Down for Your Addiction and Believe You Can Stay Sober


You are not your addiction. You have an addiction to a substance. There is a difference. Addiction is a chronic disease, and it must be taken seriously. It will always be in the background, but that does not mean you cannot live a full life in sobriety.

Many people who live with addiction also suffer from low self-esteem. Addiction has a way of robbing people of their self-worth – when they are actively using they will do anything to get their next dose. That is the nature of the disease. Without treatment, the disease is in control. Now that you have undergone treatment, you are not in that place anymore.

Do not put yourself down for having a disease. Think about how far you have come since you first got help. Living in the past does not help anyone, and continuing to bring up events you cannot change will only keep you there. Work with your therapist to come to terms with your past and the things that led to your addiction. Accept that these things are part of who you are, but they do not determine your future.

Believe You Can Stay Sober

There may be times when it seems difficult to believe you can stay sober, but there are things you can do to give yourself the encouragement you need to stay on the right track.

Take Things One Day at a Time

Tell yourself you can stay sober for today. Just do it for today. Then get up tomorrow and tell yourself the same thing. Repeat the process daily.

Keep a Journal

Journaling is a good practice, since it is something private which allows you to record your innermost thoughts. Over time, you can look back and see how far you have come in your recovery and be encouraged that you can stay sober.

Learn About Other People’s Journeys

Find books and interviews where other people talk about their struggles with addiction and how they were able to become sober. Reading this material will remind you that you are far from alone as a recovering addict, and that becoming sober is achievable, because others have been able to do it too.


If you are a religious person, or even if you don’t follow any particular faith, opening up and praying to your particular higher power allows you to talk about your struggles and fears and ask for strength and guidance on your journey.

Find Help for Addiction, Either as a First-Time Client or Following a Relapse

Are you looking for drug or alcohol treatment for yourself or a loved one? Whether you are seeking help for the first time or are looking for a program following a relapse, 12 Keys Rehab Center can help. We offer effective, holistic treatment programs. Contact us today to take the first step toward living a sober life.

The Addiction Blog