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What To Do After a Relapse?

counseling someone who's relapsed

Relapse may feel like the end of the world. But the truth is, it’s just a natural part of the recovery process.

Addiction, by its very definition, is a chronic and relapsing condition. Meaning, even if you are committed to your recovery, there is still a real risk of relapse.

Returning to using is nothing to be ashamed of. During a relapse with addiction, there’s no reason to think we’ve failed at recovery.

Relapse doesn’t mean disaster. You can always get back on the road to recovery.

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What is a Relapse?

a mother before relapseRelapse is simply the worsening of a medical condition after a period of remission. In the case of a substance use disorder, relapse means a return to using.

It doesn’t mean failure.

And it doesn’t mean that treatment hasn’t worked. It simply means you are going through the process of recovery.

And that you may need to modify or change your treatment plan.

How Common is Relapse?

Addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition. Rates of relapse are similar to any other chronic illness, like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the rates of relapse for people with substance use disorder are 40 to 60 percent.

Compare this to the relapse rate of hypertension or asthma, at 50 to 70 percent.

Research also shows that people in early recovery are at a higher risk of relapse than someone with a sustained period of sobriety. Studies show that a person who has completed treatment remains at a higher risk of relapse (approximately 50 percent) for the first 12 weeks after leaving treatment. For those in recovery from alcohol use disorder, rates of relapse are as high as 90 percent.

The relapse risk for people with substance use disorder is about 40 to 60 percent. Compare this to the relapse rate of hypertension or asthma, at 50 to 70 percent.

It is worth noting that while relapse is part of recovery for some people, it can still represent a risk for people who use more potent drugs like opioids. When a person stops using substances, their tolerance decreases. Using again may be deadly as the risk of overdose is higher.

That’s why it’s important to never use alone and to carry an opioid reversal drug such as Narcan.

Are There Stages of Relapse?

Relapse is a process rather than an event. Relapse has three defined stages:

Emotional Relapse

This may occur when a person thinks about a previous experience of using substances. You may also stop attending meetings or showing up for recovery commitments. You can become concerned with other people’s problems or start to socially isolate yourself.

You may also develop poor sleeping and eating habits.

Mental Relapse

During a mental relapse, you might start experiencing cravings or think of previous use positively. You may even begin planning on how to use.

A mental relapse is a mental struggle between the urge to use and a desire to remain sober.

At this stage, people in recovery are at an increased risk of relapse. You or a loved one would benefit from recommitting to recovery. Try speaking to an addiction counselor or sponsor who can help you to work through cravings and a  desire to use.

Physical Relapse

This is the final stage of the relapse process. You’ve now decided to take a drug or drink.

Physical relapse may be one drink or drug or could be the sustained use of substances over a period of time.

Once you’re aware of these stages, you may be able to prevent the physical relapse by identifying the early warning signs.

What Are Some of the Main Causes?

Several factors contribute to the stages of relapse, including:

  • Chronic stress: This can cause dysregulation in the body and a desire to escape your surroundings. Sources of stress include demanding work, experiencing relationship difficulties, or health concerns.
  • Putting sobriety second: If you stop going to meetings, or showing up for your commitments, this can lead you away from the very things that sustain your recovery.
  • A poor support system: Without a strong source of support, your recovery could suffer because you’re less likely to be able to reach out to people in recovery to share your challenges.
  • A lack of aftercare planning post-rehab: The last stage of rehab is to develop a solid aftercare plan that acts as a sort of recovery action plan. Without a plan, you may struggle to implement the structure and support network needed to sustain your recovery.

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How to Get Your Recovery Back on Track

Clock to symbolize rebounding after relapseRelapse happens. When it does, it’s important to know this isn’t the end of your recovery journey. It simply means you need to modify your recovery.

Rather than enter a spiral of shame or guilt, take action. Here are some top tips for what to do after a relapse:

  • Stop using substances or alcohol as soon as possible. The longer you continue, the harder it is going to be to stop.
  • Forgive. Shame and guilt will not help the recovery process and can lead you deeper into your addiction. Overall, you made a mistake, and now is the time to get back on track.
  • Reflect on what happened. Once you’ve forgiven yourself, try to take a moment to reflect on what caused the relapse. Were you struggling in a particular area? Or were you pressured to go to a bar by friends? Or maybe a loved one died. This is all useful information to identify triggers and inform possible relapse prevention strategies.
  • Seek support. This is what your support network is for. Reach out to recovery friends, go to a meeting, or speak to your therapist.
  • Go back to treatment. If you’ve been using for some time, it might be best to speak to an addiction specialist to plan on reentering treatment or possibly detox.
  • Take your medication. When you relapse, it’s easy to forget to take your medication. It’s important that returning to recovery also involves sticking to your medication routine.
  • Relapse prevention strategies. Speak to your counselor or therapist about putting together an effective relapse prevention plan to avoid returning to use.
  • Improving coping skills. Find workshops and classes on stress management and research grounding techniques. Or you could attend yoga or meditation classes.

Stress-relieving techniques are critical for coping in sustained recovery.

Ready to talk to a treatment specialist? Contact us today at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to learn about our flexible treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.

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Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) could be forwarded to SAMHSA or a verified treatment provider. Calls are routed based on availability and geographic location.

The AlcoholicsAnonymous.com helpline is free, private, and confidential. There is no obligation to enter treatment. In some cases, AlcoholicsAnonymous.com could charge a small cost per call, to a licensed treatment center, a paid advertiser, this allows AlcoholicsAnonymous.com to offer free resources and information to those in need by calling the free hotline you agree to the terms of use. We do not receive any commission or fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a caller chooses.

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