The First Steps to Take After a Relapse

It’s important to remember that sobriety isn’t an endpoint, it’s an ongoing journey — and not necessarily one that takes you in a straight line. Addiction is a chronic illness requiring lifelong management, so relapses are possible. According to one study, as many as 40 to 60% of those struggling with drug or alcohol addiction will relapse.

While a relapse is serious and likely disappointing, a setback isn’t insurmountable. When compared to other chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, addiction relapse rates are similar. A relapse doesn’t make you a failure, but it does mean you need to pick yourself back up and reconsider your strategies for living a sober life.

Discovering what to do when you relapse can be the first step toward regaining control and recommitting to your recovery goals.

Acknowledge the Relapse

The first and perhaps most crucial step is to acknowledge that the relapse occurred. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, shame, or failure, but these emotions can hinder your progress. Recognizing that you have stumbled allows you to start the process of standing back up.

What to do after relapse isn’t just about getting back on track, it’s also about understanding what led to the setback. Dealing with relapse involves understanding it as a part of the recovery journey and using it as a learning experience.

Stop Using if You Haven’t Already

Experts suggest that understanding what to do when you relapse is as important as initial recovery efforts to ensure long-term success. After you relapse, your situation can seem incredibly confusing, but it’s important to remember this obvious step: stop using. Immediately.

You may think that since you’ve relapsed, you might as well continue to use. This line of thinking is self-defeating — believing that you have failed when you haven’t is not an excuse to continue to use. Feeling hopeless and giving up on trying to stay sober can create a never-ending cycle of substance abuse.

Stop using, then take a minute and remind yourself of all the progress you’ve made since entering rehabilitation. Remember that you are not a failure, you’re human — and you’ve simply encountered a setback. Pick yourself up and get ready to get back on track.

Stop using if you haven't already

Practice Self-Compassion and Forgiveness

It’s completely understandable to be upset with yourself for relapsing. However, it’s important to avoid the shame cycle by looking at your relapse from a different perspective. Take a step back, and consider your choices, behavior, and attitudes leading up to your decision to use again.

It’s vital to treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Relapse does not define your worth or the progress you’ve made. Practice self-compassion by speaking to yourself with the same kindness you would offer a friend in your situation.

Beating yourself up over your mistake of relapsing won’t change the past or erase it from having happened. Acknowledge you’ve made a mistake and work on moving forward with your life and your recovery.

Identify Your Triggers

Take some time to reflect on what factors contributed to the relapse. Understanding the triggers or situations that led to this point can help you avoid similar circumstances in the future. Whether it was stress, certain social settings, or emotional states, identifying these triggers is a step toward managing them more effectively.

Even if you already know your main triggers for using drugs or alcohol, a relapse is an opportunity to re-assess them and identify any new ones you may have developed. It’s also an opportunity to re-evaluate your strategies for keeping your triggers in check.

Be honest with yourself and establish a strategy to avoid or address those triggers. The more honest you are, the more likely you’ll develop a plan to prevent a future relapse.

Reach Out for Support

We’ve already noted that shame is a normal reaction after relapsing, but we urge you to fight the desire to retreat into your shell and shut yourself off from the world. Now is the time to use the support network you’ve developed during drug and alcohol rehab and throughout your recovery.

You don’t have to face this alone. Reach out to supportive friends, family members, or a recovery group. These supports can offer you both emotional comfort and practical advice at a moment when you might be feeling particularly vulnerable. If you have a sponsor or a therapist, inform them about the situation as they can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.

Reaffirm Your Commitment to Recovery

A relapse can sometimes serve as a jolt, reminding you of the reasons you chose the path of recovery in the first place. Take this time to reaffirm your commitment. What are your recovery goals? Why are they important to you? Writing these down can reinforce your motivation and help clear your mind about what you want to achieve. 

If you’re unsure about what to do after relapse, consulting with a professional can provide you with the guidance needed to continue your recovery process. Many recovery programs offer guidelines on what to do when you relapse, emphasizing the importance of seeking support and not losing hope.

Update or Create a Recovery Plan

When dealing with relapse, one critical action to take is revisiting and possibly revising your recovery plan to address any new challenges. With fresh insights from your recent experience, it might be necessary to revise your existing recovery plan or create a new one.

Consider incorporating new strategies for managing triggers, such as additional therapy sessions, joining new support groups, or other healthy coping mechanisms like meditation or exercise.

Get Back into Routine

Another effective response to what to do when you relapse is to enhance your daily routine with additional supportive elements like mindfulness practices or peer support groups. A structured daily routine can support your recovery efforts by minimizing unpredictability and stress. Try to get back into a routine that includes regular meals, exercise, meetings or therapy sessions, and sufficient sleep. Stability in your daily life can provide a sense of control and normalcy.

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Experiencing a relapse isn’t the end of your recovery journey—it’s a detour. Each step you take following a relapse is a step toward regaining your strength and advancing further than before. Remember, recovery is not a linear process. And, each experience, including setbacks, is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and refine your approach to wellness.

If you’re unsure about what to do when you relapse, creating a detailed action plan with professionals can provide clarity and direction. We’re here for you at Extra Mile Recovery, whether you’ve relapsed or are just seeking additional support. We can help connect you through our aftercare and alumni programs. So, you’ll feel surrounded with the support you need to continue in recovery and live a sober life.

Contact us today to get back on track and find compassionate support dealing with relapse.

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