I’ve Relapsed, Now What?

Overcoming an alcohol addiction or other substance disorder is an ongoing process, one which can include setbacks. Because chronic relapse can be part of addiction, persistence is key. It is rare that someone would go to treatment once and then never drink or use again. More often, people find they must repeatedly try to quit or cut back, experience relapses, learn from them, and keep trying.  

Relapse is common among people who are overcoming dependency to alcohol or drugs. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), approximately 90% of people addicted to alcohol and/ or other substances will relapse within four years. However, relapse does not have to spiral back into full-blown addiction.  


Most relapses occur during periods of stress or when exposed to people, places, or situations that are associated with past drinking. Others revisit the use of a mind-altering substance as a coping mechanism for underlying anxiety, depression, or chronic pain. Just as people with diabetes, hypertension, or asthma have flare-ups of their disease, a “therapeutic relapse” can be a temporary set-back to full recovery and not a complete failure.  


If you have relapsed it is crucial that you are honest with yourself so you can find a way forward.  Most relapses lead back to full-blown addiction because shame and guilt take hold and the individual either rationalizes the substance use, denies it occurred, or hides it by withdrawing from other people. In a “therapeutic relapse,” letting go of guilt and shame surrounding the use and creating a strategy to avoid relapsing again is the best way forward.

The following four steps can help you get you back on track:

1) Stop using/drinking as soon as possible:

When someone relapses, they often keep using, reasoning that since they have already used, they may as well keep going. However, continuing to use makes it much harder to stop, leading right back into the addiction. As soon as you can, do what is necessary to STOP. That may mean following the next steps.

2) Seek Support:

The sooner you can reach out for help, the easier it will be to get back on track.  Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  Despite Western beliefs that you must “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” no one can succeed in recovery alone. Reaching out to trusted family, friends, and community resources for support can help you to overcome your relapse and begin to seek your recipe for true recovery. Twelve-step groups can be tremendously helpful by offering a safe space to share and learn from others. An individual therapist can help you identify treatment options, including a higher level of care or even medication-assisted treatments to support your recovery.

3) Identify Your Triggers:

Triggers are both internal and external cues that cause cravings for alcohol and/or drugs. If not addressed early with tools learned that can support you, you will most likely continue to use. Becoming aware of and understanding your triggers can help you to avoid or reduce situations that could lead to continued use. When faced with a trigger, you can use coping strategies like mindfully noticing your thoughts, emotions, and or the environment; accept the craving, and then make a choice that is positive for your recovery such as calling a support person, going to a meeting, or engaging in a healthy activity. In essence, you can learn tools to support your intention to stop drinking or using.

4) Create a Plan to Prevent Relapsing Again:

With the help of a therapist, sponsor, or other sober support, try to analyze your relapse and create a plan to avoid a similar scenario in the future. This relapse prevention plan should include identified triggers, ways to cope, and specific people in your support network who you can ask for help.

Ultimately, recovery is a personal journey and no two people will have the exact same recipe for living without the use of drugs and alcohol. However, following these steps can help you get back on track with your recovery and your life.

Let us help. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Came to Pass Recovery staff are standing by for you. Call us.