Footprints to Recovery

Close this search box.
Get Help Now!
Close this search box.

What to Do When You Relapse

4 minute read

When it comes to behavior change, you never quite escape the risk of relapse. Relapse is often only associated with addiction recovery, however, relapse can occur with other behavior changes like going to the gym, improving your diet, and setting boundaries. It can also happen with behavioral addictions like eating disorders or sex addiction. Long-term behavior change can be difficult to maintain, especially with alcohol or drug abuse. In fact, 40 to 60% of people who’ve gotten sober will relapse at least once. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, so don’t throw in the towel on your sobriety if you’ve relapsed. You’re not alone, and you can come out of it for the better. Here are some suggestions on what to do when you relapse in addiction recovery:

#1 Forgive Yourself

First of all, have empathy and compassion for yourself. You are human. Everyone has difficult moments and makes choices they regret. Addiction is a disease that wants you to be alone and wants you to start drinking or using drugs again. You’re fighting a difficult battle, and relapse can be a part of that process.

#2 Lean on Your Support System

Do not let shame stop you from reaching out to your support network. Being alone is not how to deal with relapse in recovery. Your support system may include friends, family, therapists, spiritual helpers, or sponsors. They don’t want to see you slip further, and they want to help you.

Now it’s more important than ever to diligently attend meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery. These recovery groups support and normalize the difficulties in addiction recovery, which can ease the shame, disappointment, and isolation you may be feeling. Talk about what was going on before, during, or after the relapse. The more you talk about it and bring it to light, the more it loosens its grip on you.

#3 Acknowledge Emotions and Behaviors

It is important to acknowledge the thoughts and behaviors that led you to this point. Awareness is one of the most important aspects of implementing change. It is crucial after a slip in consistency to look at what played a role in relapse. Increasing awareness will help you avoid becoming immersed in the cycle that keeps relapse going and increases emotional pain.

Identifying and feeling guilt, shame, and resentment can decrease them. You can only heal pain when you feel it. Process these emotions with a therapist or other support resources. Guilt and shame can occur after a relapse due to fear of judgment or because of the expectations that you’ve put on yourself.

#4 Reframe and Refocus

Reframe your relapse and refocus on recovery goals. Remind yourself why you went to alcohol and drug abuse treatment to begin with. If your internal motivation is not enough right now to reclaim recovery, reflect on what you stand to lose from drug or alcohol addiction — what it took away from you, and what you worked hard to get back in recovery. This might include:

  • Your family
  • Your job or career
  • Your physical or mental health
  • A place to live
  • Personal freedom
  • Relationships with loved ones
  • Trust from others

Remind yourself of what you do have, and what you are grateful for. Think about realistic goals you can work toward and how you can use this experience to learn and grow in recovery.

#5 Change Things Around

Do something different in your recovery. There is no end to the changes we can make in our lives to improve our emotions and situation. Some changes may include:

  • Finding new hobbies
  • Learning new skills
  • Getting a sponsor
  • Trying a new support meeting
  • Volunteering
  • Joining a club

Trying new things can help improve your view of life and confidence. Relapse can be a part of recovery, but it does not have to dictate your recovery. It can be difficult to get back on track. You may feel low about yourself in the process. However, relapse is not the end. Use the resources you have and keep fighting.

Is Returning to Treatment Necessary?

Not all addiction relapses require a return to an intensive inpatient rehab situation. If your relapse was more of what some recovery communities define as a “slip,” you may just need a “tune up” and a stronger relapse prevention plan. This will be different for everyone, but might include things like:

  • Outpatient rehab that allows you to maintain school, work, and family commitments while attending addiction treatment a few times a week in the days or evenings.
  • Increasing the frequency of individual therapy sessions.
  • Attending recovery support groups more frequently.
  • Prioritizing self-care like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and finding time to do things you enjoy.
  • Making sure you’re managing symptoms of co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses with behavioral therapy, prescribed medications, and other supportive measures.

In some cases, checking yourself into a residential drug rehab center could be the best course of action. If your relapse on alcohol and drugs was not a one-time event where you immediately felt regret; you’ve fallen back into your old lifestyle; or you aren’t doing any of the things you know will get you back on track, having some time and space away from triggers to focus on yourself and getting better may be necessary.

We Can Help

If you or a loved one has relapsed, contact Footprints to Recovery for a free, confidential consultation. We use evidence-based addiction treatments and focus on building the skills and practices that support long-term recovery. We view addiction relapse as an opportunity to learn, not a failure, and we’ll help you emerge back into sobriety, stronger and happier.

Our substance abuse treatment centers offer:

Give us a call. We understand what you’re going through, and we can help.



Are you covered for addiction treatment? Find your insurance
We're Here 24/7
Call right now to chat about:

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.