What To Do After a Relapse: Your Guide to Recovery

Relapsing is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it should be something we learn from. Here’s what to do after a relapse to lead to a successful recovery journey.

Many people think of relapse as an event or a single action that serves as a setback. However, relapse is a process that happens over weeks, months, and sometimes years. A relapse can happen to anyone at any time and for any condition. For example, a person with diabetes must avoid junk food to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. For months they follow their diet plan. Attending a party with friends and a lot of junk food, the person with diabetes gave into temptation and ate unhealthy foods. They relapsed on junk food.

There will be temptations for someone with an alcohol or substance use disorder. Relapse may happen. If reaching a goal meant never encountering obstacles, people everywhere would be setting positive goals. Rather than give up, most people do what it takes to overcome the obstacle and keep moving towards their goals.

You can do the same. Below are specific steps you can take to quickly get back on track after a relapse and start moving forward in recovery once again.

What Is Relapse?

Relapse is a return to behavior after a period of abstinence that can cause negative consequences in your life.

For someone with an alcohol or substance use disorder, relapse may mean slipping up one time. For someone else, it may mean a three-month binge on cocaine. A relapse for you will be a little different from a relapse for the person with diabetes or mental health disorder or any other condition. You must define what relapse means when applied to your life.

4 Steps to Work Towards After Relapsing

It can be easy to get into a bad headspace after relapsing, but know that hope is not lost. You can do this. Below are 4 steps for after a relapse.

1. Forgive Yourself

It can be easy to get caught up in negative self-talk, self-anger, and disappointment when you relapse. If you are hard on yourself for relapsing, you give too much power to the relapse itself. The longer you blame, shame, and guilt yourself, the more you allow alcohol or drugs to control you.

After relapsing, own your behaviors, then do something to prevent it from happening again. You will feel proud of yourself for taking responsibility.

2. Hit the Recovery Restart Button

The sooner you get back into recovery, the better. Depending on the substances, activities, and length of time of your relapse, you may need medication and medical supervision to help you get sober again. Reentering treatment is an excellent idea after a relapse or slip. Treatment facilities offer various inpatient, partial, and intensive outpatient programs.

3. Learn the Stages of Relapse

The more you know about relapse, the more equipped you will prevent it. There are three stages of relapse. Each stage offers clues that signal the potential for relapse. The stages of relapse are emotional, mental, and physical.

Emotional relapse happens first. If you can recognize you are in emotional relapse and seek help at that time, you can avoid a physical relapse.

  • Emotional Relapse

In the first stage, you are not yet thinking about relapse. But your thoughts are becoming more negative, and you may experience episodes of depression or anxiety. Mood swings, irritability, and emotional outbursts are common in this stage. You may have trouble sleeping or notice a change in appetite. This is likely due to suppressing emotions and not taking them seriously.

These changes are noticeable to others, but you deny having a problem and reject getting help when confronted. You slowly stop going to meetings, hanging out with friends and family, and doing what it takes to stay sober.

This is the most critical stage. Getting help in this stage is vital to avoid moving into stage two.

  • Mental Relapse

The second stage of relapse is when you start thinking about drinking alcohol or using drugs again. You are seeking a way to cope with your negative emotions. Cravings reappear, along with fantasies about drinking or using drugs, rationalizing using substances, lying to others when they ask if you are thinking about relapsing. You may even lie to yourself about handling using just one time.

The good news is that you still have not relapsed at this stage. So if you reach out for help, attend meetings, reenter treatment, or tell someone how you feel, you can avoid a relapse. Not seeking support will lead to the third and final stage of relapse.

  • Physical Relapse

Physical relapse means you started drinking or misusing substances again. Once this happens, it is hard to stop without professional help, which should be sought as soon as possible.

Knowledge alone is not enough. You must also create a plan, specific steps you put into action.

4. Create a Relapse Prevention Plan

With the help of an addiction counselor, create a relapse prevention plan that lists the strategies you will use to stay sober. There are people, places, and things that you may encounter that can be reminders of the days when you were misusing substances. Most often referred to as triggers, they can be seen as warning signs.

It is helpful when you make a list of triggers and, for each one, develop a strategy to overcome them.

Goals act as motivation and give you a focal point. Keeping your eye on the end goal and avoiding distractions will help you prevent relapse.

Taking care of yourself must be a priority in recovery. Your relapse prevention plan should list all the ways you can introduce self-care into your life. Examples may include getting enough sleep each night, eating healthy, exercising, and practicing mindfulness.

Finally, build a support system that includes counselors, sober friends, family, a sponsor, and support group members. These are the people that will talk to you in the middle of the night, take you to meetings, and help you avoid relapse.

In closing, you need to see relapse as a stepping stone or learning experience. Some people may relapse more than once. A recovery restart can follow each relapse. Never give up on yourself and your ability to stay sober. It can happen.

We are here to help you achieve your recovery goals. Call us today to start or restart.

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