What to Do After a Relapse

Relapses are preventable, but one or more relapses by an individual who is recovering from drug or alcohol addiction are not uncommon. The keys to managing and getting past a relapse are to understand that a relapse is not the same as failure, and that a relapse can be a learning experience. Many recovering addicts come back from a relapse with better knowledge of relapse triggers that can affect the and with an even greater resolve to push toward genuine long-term sobriety.

Addiction recovery programs, including popular 12-step programs, strive to instruct recovering addicts to acknowledge their own culpability for their addictions. This is also important when a recovering addict experiences a relapse, i.e. he should acknowledge and admit that his relapse was his mistake. Denying or failing to accept responsibility for a relapse mistake will push a recovering addict back toward his more general sense of denying that his drug and alcohol use is a problem. That denial will also leave a recovering addict with a lingering sense of guilt or shame about the relapse. Recovering addicts will experience a range of negative emotions about their past substance abuse. Admitting the mistake and then getting past that admission will form a response to the relapse that is a positive step forward.

Admitting and taking responsibility for a relapse mistake will also help a recovering addict to prevent additional relapses. A recovering addict might perceive a first relapse as evidence of failure of his rehab program, which makes it easier for him to return to his addictions. The better response is for a recovering addict to return to the techniques that helped him at the beginning of his recovery, including setting simple goals like making it through one day at a time without using drugs or alcohol. Addicts should also stay in contact with their recovery sponsors and support groups who can talk them through the temptations to go back to using drugs or alcohol. This can help a recovering addict to better understand the relapse trigger that pushed him back to substance abuse, and to devise healthier strategies to respond to that trigger when it reoccurs. This may require a recovering addict to remove himself from neighborhoods where he can easily procure drugs or alcohol, and to jettison friends who are not as invested in his recovery. It may also require him to learn new techniques to manage stress, which is not as easily avoidable.

Whether stress comes from a person’s job, his financial situation, or his family or social life, stress is often one of the more overlooked forces that can drive a recovering addict toward a relapse. It is not as easily avoidable as neighborhoods or friends that provide access to drugs and alcohol. If stress is a relapse trigger, a recovering addict may need to focus on more spiritual recovery methodologies that help him to better connect with his inner self, including yoga and meditation. The objective benefits of these practices should not be discounted, and many studies have shown that they are powerful tools to help addicts in recovery and relapse prevention.

A recovering addict’s family and support group should be careful not to condemn a recovering addict on account of a relapse. At the same time, however, they should not ignore the relapse or give the recovering addict any excuses for succumbing to temptation. Families and support groups should encourage the recovering addict to admit his mistake and to return to individual and group therapy as soon as is possible after a relapse.

Sustain Recovery Services in southern California works with adolescents and young adults who are recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism, and with their families, to prevent relapses and to respond positively and with renewed resolve should a relapse occur. Please see our website or call us at 949-407-9052 for more information about our services or to arrange a confidential consultation with one of our counselors.