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What to Do After a Relapse to Maintain Long-term Recovery

by | Published on Feb 4, 2020 | Finding Addiction Help For Myself, Health and Wellness

What to Do After a Relapse

Before we start, if you relapse, don’t beat yourself up. Almost 40 to 60 percent of people in addiction recovery will relapse within their first year. However, this doesn’t mean that treatment is worthless or that you’re bound to relapse. As important as seeking treatment for your addiction, learning what to do after a relapse can help you get back on your recovery journey and maintain long-term sobriety. 

Define Relapsing

When someone suffers a relapse, they experience a recurrence of the disease after going into recovery. This happens when an addict goes through the three stages of relapse and seeks out drug or alcohol use. 

Unlike a slip, relapsing can be quite dangerous. Slips are occasions when recovering addicts partake in a small amount of an illicit substance and then stop. 

A relapse can be one session, or it can drag out for many weeks or months. As long as they return to treatment, it’s considered a relapse. If they don’t go back to rehab, they experienced a relapse that triggered a return to full-blown addiction. 

Approach It with Positivity

While relapse must be taken seriously, you don’t need additional negativity in your life. Addiction relapse can add a significant toll to your mental health that can hurt you in the long run. Focusing more on how you react to relapse than the act of “failing” is more important. Avoid seeing these episodes as a personal failure as this can fuel negative sentiments that could lead to a full relapse.

If you focus on the positives, you have a better chance of getting back on track, instead of abandoning your recovery altogether. It’s a vast difference to think to yourself, “I made a mistake, and I have to work on preventing it from happening again,” than thinking, “Well, I made a mistake, so I might as well go back to using again.”

Changing your viewpoint on the situation can play a significant role in the following steps. 

Try to Pinpoint the Cause of Your Relapse

Immediately after your setback, you have to take some time to reflect on what led you to relapse. Various factors likely play a role in reincorporating substance use in your life. It might have been an environmental trigger, such as being in an area that reminded you of use. Maybe you suffered an emotional trigger, like losing a loved one, starting a new job, or being under more stress than usual. 

Pinpointing the cause will help you pivot and find the best route to go back to your recovery journey. Some questions that can help you find the cause of your setback include:

  • Were you hanging out with non-sober friends or poor influences?
  • Have you been avoiding responsibilities?
  • Have you been engaging in negative self-talk? Dismissing your self-care practices?
  • Are you skipping support meetings? Avoiding your sponsor?
  • Are you feeling more isolated? 

Answering these questions can give you a better idea of where your triggers are coming from. Evidence suggests factors such as financial stress, interpersonal conflict, stress and angriness, and depression can all lead to relapse. However, things like exposure to drugs or alcohol, poor coping skills, dismissing social bonding, and neglecting your health can also be part of the issue. 

Take time to analyze your behavior and think of what led to back to drugs or alcohol. If you’re finding difficulty pinpointing the cause, consider speaking with your counselor or sponsor. They can help you sift through the potential reasons for your setback. Even if you’re able to precisely point to the reason for your setback, speaking with a therapist can help you manage the stressors in the future. 

Get Support and Treatment

You already know the importance of asking for help. If you have a setback, don’t hold it inside and let it eat you. After a relapse, you need to reach out for support. Research shows that positive social support can decrease relapse. Contact your sponsor, go back to attending meetings, try new support groups, call your therapist, or talk to a family member or friend about what happened. The sooner you get support, the better. 

Sometimes you need a bit more than support. If you experienced a full-blown relapse that lasted days, weeks, or even months, it might be time to go back to treatment. Don’t see this as a sign of failure. Instead, see it as a conscious choice in your interest in living addiction-free. Recovery is a lifelong process with many ups and downs. 

Going back to treatment doesn’t mean the first round didn’t work. Perhaps, you know, facing new stressors that you weren’t able to think about before. Recovery makes you be more in touch with your feelings and surroundings. It can be very overwhelming and even scary at first. Treatment or aftercare recovery can help you get back on track and equip yourself with the right tools to manage your recovery. 

Forgive Yourself and Make Changes

Most likely, you’ll blame yourself for your relapse. Don’t. Try to avoid feeling guilt and shame after your setback. These feelings will only hurt you in the long run and get you farther away from getting the help you need. 

Acknowledge the relapse and take responsibility for your actions. However, don’t stop there. Start making changing and letting go of the negative emotions about your setback. Take time to figure out what went wrong, what didn’t work for you, and what you need more help with. 

Focus on learning more about your triggers and how to recognize these triggers. Talk top your therapy on trying different coping mechanisms so you can better manage these triggers. Think about the type of boundaries and solutions you need to implement in your life away from the treatment center. Perhaps you need to avoid certain places, some family and friends, or even avoid listening to specific songs. 

Work on developing healthy habits that will help you stay away from substance use. Healthy eating, exercising, good sleeping habits can all help prevent a setback as they improve your overall wellbeing. All of these things might seem insignificant at first, but they can be a useful relapse prevention tool that could help you stay clean and sober.

We’re Here to Help

As you’re wondering about what to do after a relapse, know that we are here to help. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our goal is to help you find long-term recovery from addiction. Our therapists know too well the struggles of relapses and how debilitating it can be. We can help you create a relapse prevention plan that helps you stay sober.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction recovery, don’t hesitate to call us. We can guide you through the best steps to take to leave this relapse episode behind and start looking for the best way to move forward. 

Don’t think of relapse as a failure. You haven’t failed anyone, not even yourself. Let’s work together on leaving all of this behind and focus on the most important thing – your recovery. 

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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