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What to Do After a Relapse Step-by-Step

Relapsing can change everything about recovery. For a lot of people, going through a relapse feels like a failure or something beyond their control, but that’s not true. Like any other step in substance abuse recovery, relapsing is possible, but it’s not the end of your journey. It’s just a stage you need to get through.

So, if you’ve recently gone through a relapse or want to be prepared should it ever happen, here is everything you need to know about relapsing and how you can use it to make your recovery and determination to stay sober stronger than ever.

What Is a Relapse?

A relapse usually refers to a person using the substance they are recovering from, but it’s often not that black and white. Most people don’t just suddenly relapse; it’s something they build up to gradually over days, weeks, or even months.

Recognizing the early signs of relapse could help you prevent it in the future, and recognizing when you’ve started relapsing could mean getting help in time.

Emotional Relapse

In most cases, relapse starts as an emotional change. Life might be messy or busy, and you start neglecting things like self-care and expressing your feelings. Or, you might end up skipping recovery meet-ups or not sharing as much as you used to. At this point, getting a family member or close friend to help could get you back on track.

Mental Relapse

The second step is called a mental relapse. This is when you start thinking of using again, contacting the people who encouraged your addiction, or going back to your habits while using. Often, this stage accompanies cravings and intrusive thoughts that convince you the bad effects of the substance you abused weren’t that bad. You also start finding reasons why using again might be a good idea.

Physical Relapse

This occurs when you start using drugs or alcohol again. This is often seen as a “real” relapse and might seem like it came out of nowhere. However, in most cases, the signs were there long before you used again.

Step-by-Step Guide to Recovery After Relapsing

No matter what stage of relapse you’re in, getting your recovery journey back on track is essential. Thankfully, there’s a step-by-step process that can help you do just that.

1. Stop Drinking or Using as Soon as Possible

Whether you struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, if you’ve relapsed, you must stop using as soon as possible and remove yourself from situations where these substances are present.1

This isn’t just to get back in recovery but to keep you safe, as relapses often lead to accidental overdoses.

2. Take Responsibility

Addiction recovery is difficult, and getting back on track after a relapse can be extremely challenging. This makes it easy to blame others or make excuses for using again. Blaming outside circumstances or the people around you isn’t the answer. One of the first things you need to do after a relapse is to take responsibility and realize that, no matter your environment, you were the one that chose to use again and that you have the power to decide not to.

3. Get Help

Once you’ve taken responsibility for your actions and removed yourself from situations where you could use again, the next step is to get help. Addiction relapse is by no means an uncommon occurrence, and many addiction treatment programs offer guidance for people who have relapsed or are in danger of doing so. Reaching out and getting professional help should be a top priority once you’ve decided to get your life back on track.

4. Practice Self-Forgiveness

Realize that relapse is often a part of the recovery process and that, even though it’s a setback, there’s no reason to feel guilt and shame. Recovery is a challenge, and struggling sometimes is natural. Learn to forgive yourself for relapsing and find self-love to try again.

5. Reflect on What Caused the Relapse

One of the most important parts of getting over a relapse and staying on the path to recovery is understanding what caused your relapse. For some, it’s familial stress or the effects of broken relationships. For others, it’s peer pressure at a party or a sudden bout of depression. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to substance abuse recovery. Understanding that things like mental and physical health can significantly impact sobriety can help you learn to cope with your triggers now and in the future.

Joining an aftercare rehab program could give you the information and support you need to identify and deal with triggers that may lead to relapse. Seeing a therapist or mental health professional could go a long way towards developing healthy coping mechanisms.

6. Self-Care

Your physical and mental health play an immense role in your ability to become and stay sober. Taking time to look after yourself and do things you enjoy is vital to any recovery journey. One of the first signs of a future relapse is a lack of self-care, and letting people or things get you down to the point where you don’t have time for yourself could have serious consequences on your sobriety.

So go for a walk, visit a park, take a bath, clean your home, or simply just relax on a couch with a book or a movie. Make sure you take time to look after your physical and mental needs, and you will find your determination to stay sober only increases.

7. Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan

Most substance use disorder treatment options include creating a relapse prevention plan. This involves learning the coping skills necessary to deal with triggers, having the right people to call when you feel down, and creating habits around activities that influence your sobriety in a positive way. Most relapse prevention plans also include information on how to spot a possible relapse long before it happens, so you can know beforehand when you need help in the future.

8. Create or Contact Your Support System

One of the last, but by no means the least, important steps is to build up a strong social support system. Feeling alone or like you’re struggling by yourself can be extremely discouraging. By creating a network of friends, family members, and other people in recovery, you can source the support and encouragement you need to stay sober even when it’s hard.

Often, it’s your support network that notices something is wrong long before you do, and they can get you the help you need or encourage you to do so yourself, should need be. Even if it’s just one or two people who really care, they could mean the difference between a second relapse or a life of fulfilling sobriety.

Contact Adelante Recovery Center for Help with Relapse

If you or a loved one have relapsed, or are worried about relapsing in the future, get in touch with Adelante Recovery Center’s expert team at (949) 427-9099 to get the help you need to recover and cope.


  1. https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/alcohol/things-to-do-after-alcohol-relapse

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