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. [1]

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.

If you’ve gone though a relapse, don’t panic. We’ll walk you through what to do to continue your journey of recovery:

Stop Using If You Haven’t Already

After you relapse, your situation can seem incredibly confusing, but it’s important to remember this obvious first 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

Stop Blaming Yourself, but Re-Examine Your Behaviors

It’s completely understandable to be upset with yourself for relapsing, but 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. 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

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 Help

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 rehab and throughout your recovery.

Reach out to your family and friends you trust with honesty and develop your plan together. Also, connect with any recovery resources you may have — including our own alumni network — and attend support group meetings to give you a sense of community and avoid feeling abandoned.

Reach out for help Extra Mile Recovery

Connect with Extra Mile Recovery

We’re always 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 always feel surrounded with the support you need to continue in recovery and live a sober life.

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