A relapse occurs when someone who has established sobriety begins abusing mind-altering substances again. For example, a person who used to be addicted to alcohol but who has gotten sober can relapse if they start drinking again or using drugs. A relapse is not to be confused with a lapse, as a lapse represents one singular event of using again after getting sober. It is defined as relapse when someone who has gotten sober starts regularly using once more.
Not everyone who gets sober relapses, but many do. In fact, the first year of sobriety is the riskiest time of all, as most people who have achieved sobriety relapse within this time frame. That does not mean that with each year sobriety gets easier. Just because a person is not actively using drugs or alcohol does not mean the disease of addiction has disappeared. This disease can be treated, but not cured, meaning that the risk of relapse is always possible regardless of how long someone has kept sober. That is why it is of the utmost importance for all addicts and alcoholics in recovery to know what to do after a relapse occurs.
What to Do After a Relapse
Every person in recovery is different and has their own unique needs. But one of the common threads that is shared among all in recovery is the possibility of relapse — and what to do if it happens.
The very first and most important thing you should do if you relapse is remember that relapse does not equal failure. This is absolutely critical, as allowing yourself to get caught up in negative thinking and poor self-talk will only fuel your substance abuse. Relapse is not a failure, rather it is a part of recovery for everyone regardless of if they physically relapse or not. That is because staying sober takes a great deal of effort and energy on all fronts. If you suffer a relapse, tell yourself that your relapse does not make you a failure, and try some of the following:
- Tell someone — Call up your best friend, sponsor, therapist, parent, or even a friend you made at treatment and tell them that you have relapsed. Attempting to hide a relapse is a heavy burden to carry and can make it that much easier to just keep using. Allow your confidant to offer their support. Take into consideration their positive suggestions and freely share what you are experiencing.
- Reach out for help — Ask for help by contacting your local treatment center, the treatment center you attended, your therapist, your primary care physician, or any other professional who can offer their assistance at this time. If you are not in position to reach out to these individuals, consider asking a family member for help. Just because you relapsed does not mean that you need to start at square one, but it does mean that you can benefit from additional care. Allow a trusted individual to help guide you towards the appropriate level of care to manage your relapse.
- Change your behavior — Chances are if you have relapsed, you were engaging in behaviors that were not conducive to your recovery. You may have been hanging around people who use, not doing enough therapeutic work, or ignoring your emotional needs. Spend time reflecting on your behaviors and pinpoint the ones that added to your eventual relapse. Do what you can to eliminate those behaviors and ask for help with the behaviors you cannot change as easily.
- Refocus your needs — Make a list of the things that you need in order to achieve success in your recovery. For example, eating well, exercising regularly, spending time with family, and engaging in fun activities are some common needs that people in recovery require in order to keep from using again. Consider what needs you have been ignoring and bring them back to the forefront. Prioritize your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health with the knowledge that your recovery comes first.
- Make it a positive experience — Of course, relapsing is not ideal for anyone who has gotten sober and into recovery. But, there are always opportunities to make even the most negative experiences positive ones. Look at your relapse as an opportunity for you to strengthen your footing in your recovery. Your experience relapsing will only make you stronger, as you will get back on your feet and back into recovery. This is a time to build on already existing self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. While not what you ever hoped for, your relapse can be a pivotal experience in your recovery that strengthens you in ways you never thought possible.
It is not easy to put any one of these actions into motion when you have relapsed, especially if you are really struggling. What to do after relapse occurs can be confusing, but know that there are some immediate things that you can do to start the process, such as:
- Go to a local AA or NA meeting. Share your relapse with the group and allow them to be your immediate support system. Go back the next day and pick up your 24-hour chip and stay for another meeting. 12-Step programs work if you work them, so keep going back.
- Depending on the type of substance you are abusing, get into detox as quickly as possible. There, you can stop your physical use right away and begin working out your next steps.
- Call the treatment center you attended and ask to speak to an admissions counselor to determine if you should re-enroll in the program. You may not need to be readmitted to treatment, but you may receive a referral to a program better suited for your current needs.
Again, know that relapse is not a failure. It is not a moral failing or a negative reflection of your character. Ask for help and allow others to be supportive so that you can get back on track.
Are You Struggling in Your Recovery? Call Us Today.
If you are in recovery and are feeling unstable, call us right now. We can get you the immediate care you need to ensure your safety and wellbeing. You do not need to go through this alone or feel ashamed or guilty. Relapse is a part of recovery, and if you let us, we can help you move past this bump in the road.