What do I do if I relapse?

What do I do if I relapse? header image

A relapse is not a failure. It’s all about what you do to get back up. The sooner you address the slip-up, the less damage it can cause. Be honest and reach out to your support network right away. Don’t buy-in to the idea that you can handle it your own.

Research has shown we need to stay social to stay sober. Take advice and be proactive in getting back on track. Making real changes may require more treatment. (And, that’s ok).

Do I need to go back to rehab after a relapse?

Not every slip requires going away to rehab. Maybe going back to therapy/IOP is enough to turn things around or committing to daily meetings. That said, there’s no shame in coming back to rehab. We’re here to help, not judge. Reach out to your Recovery Coach to talk about what’s going on and your options. Do whatever it takes to effectively address the holes in your recovery lifestyle.

If you need help with any of the points below, seek additional treatment:

  • changing your life (recovery involves creating a new life where it is easier to not use)
  • being completely honest
  • asking for help
  • practicing self-care
  • not bending the rules
  • identifying why the relapse happened
  • understanding what needs to change
  • motivating yourself to make the changes
  • staying motivated

Why do relapses happen?

Remember, addiction is a chronic disease. It never goes away and takes practice and commitment to control. Our brains are wired differently in ways that change our decision-making. That’s not an excuse to keep using, but if you do slip, blame the disease not your personal characteristics. Then, get back on track.

What are common triggers for relapse?

Triggers are personal. It’s any thoughts, feelings, situations or relationships that lead you to relapse. It could be as straightforward as finding old drugs/alcohol in your house or dealing with a life crisis (like losing your job or death in the family). It could also be feelings like boredom, anger, loneliness or relationship conflict. You need to have a good understanding of your specific triggers to prevent them from causing another a slip in the future.

  • Have you been spending time with the wrong people?
  • Have you been putting off responsibilities (like paying bills or getting a job) and now feel stressed or overwhelmed by tasks or money issues?
  • Is your self-talk negative (like not believing you can be successful in recovery)?
  • Have you been lax with your recovery efforts (like not attending meetings or skipping medication)?
  • Have you been taking care of yourself (like getting enough sleep)?

If you are having trouble figuring it out, get your sponsor or a therapist involved.

When do relapses happen?

Research shows that the longer you stay sober, the more likely you are to continue to stay sober.

  • 60% of relapse occurs within the first weeks to 6-months of leaving rehab.
  • If you achieve a year of sobriety, there’s a 50% chance you will never relapse.
  • If you can make it to 5 years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15%.

Does how I think about relapse matter?

The simple change of seeing relapse as a mistake instead of failure can be life-changing. It switches your thoughts from “I already messed up so why not keep using?” to “I had a slip and I can move on.”

It may also help to think about recovery like any other skill that requires practice. You might not be great at it right away. Be understanding with yourself and commit to getting up again. If you keep trying and making tweaks, you’ll get to a point where recovery becomes natural.

What should I do if I relapsed?

How can I tell my family about my relapse?

You should be reaching out to your support network first and putting together a plan to self-correct. Your proactive efforts will make it easier to tell family members that may not fully understand addiction or relapse. In most cases, you’re not met with the anger or shame that you’re dreading. The people you love usually appreciate your openness and are happy to see your recovery working even in the midst of a relapse. When you’re doing everything you need to do to turn back toward recovery instead of further into addiction, your family will see that.

What if I’ve already relapsed a lot of times?

Then, you’re pretty normal. The very definition of addiction is knowing you shouldn’t use, but doing it anyway. Focus on what needs to change and take action. The only thing you can do to make good on the past is to live well in the future. You can do this. Seriously.

What can I do to prevent a relapse?

I’m so glad you asked! We have a separate answer all about that here: How can I stay sober after rehab?


U.S. National Library of Medicine: “New Findings on Biological Factors Predicting Addiction Relapse Vulnerability.”
Addictive Behaviors Volume 16: “Social support and relapse: Commonalities among alcoholics, opiate users, and cigarette smokers.”
The Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Relapse prevention. An overview of Marlatt’s cognitive-behavioral model.”
Sage Journals: “An eight-year perspective on the relationship between the duration of abstinence and other aspects of recovery.”
Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine: “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.”


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    1. Great point! Reconnecting with meetings and a sponsor is so important, especially after a relapse. One thing that all people who are successful in recovery have in common is that they never stop working on themselves. The more work you put in, the more tools you’ll have at your disposal when you need them.

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