What Should You Do if You Relapse?

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu

For too many people in recovery from substance abuse, relapse is viewed as a failure. However, that thinking is flawed. Recovery is a journey, not a destination. You worked too hard getting through treatment to get to where you are now only to relapse and give up. Relapse is not a failure. It can be a learning experience.

When you make choices that lead to a relapse, it allows you to grow and make different choices next time. Rather than feeling guilty and self-blaming, this is the time to take action and get your recovery back on track. What should you do if you relapse?

Be Gentle With Yourself

Do not criticize, blame or beat yourself up. Relapse happens. Experiencing at least a small relapse when learning how to beat addiction is common. You are not alone, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. Relapse simply means that there is more for you to learn about yourself and your recovery.

How you talk to yourself and treat yourself after a relapse helps to determine if this is a one-time slip-up or a longer-term relapse. Be honest with yourself. Yes, you relapsed. You violated the terms you promised yourself to maintain sobriety and continue in your recovery.  Recommit to yourself and pull yourself back up and continue on your path of recovery. Above all, learn from this experience so that you do not need to learn it again.

Make the Call and Ask for Help

Who you call first is up to you. If you have a sponsor or someone else that you are accountable to, call them first. Be honest, humble and ask for help. Contacting family members, friends and especially others in recovery and asking for support can help give you the strength to take the necessary steps. Do not worry about having let them down or dissappointing them. Let them know that you care about your recovery enough to trust them to ask for their help. They will likely be grateful for your trust.

Contact your therapist and set up appointments to help you through this time. Attend as many support meetings as possible and make new friends. Relapse is not about shame. It is about people who care about you, people who have been there and know how to get you back on your recovery path.

Utilize the Tools You Learned in Treatment

Utilize the skills that you learned in treatment. Which stage of change are you at? What do you need to do to get to the next stage? At what point did you emotionally relapse? Did something trigger your relapse? What did you learn from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) that can help you acknowledge your feelings, recognize where you are and take action? This can be an opportunity to review what you learned about how to beat addiction and put these tools back into practice.

Use your relapse prevention therapy techniques to prevent relapse when cravings occur. Some of the most effective coping techniques include:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, tired
  • Five senses grounding technique
  • Play the tape through
  • Breathing techniques
  • Exercise
  • Sensory distractions, such as touching something cold or playing loud music

Know When You Need More Intensive Help

Sometimes, you may need to seek more intensive treatment again. This is not like repeating a grade in school or failing a test. Returning to treatment signals a willingness to do whatever it takes to take back your recovery. Your treatment facility may have a plan for aftercare, an alumni group or other programs to take advantage of.

Contact your treatment center when you need more help than you can provide yourself.  This time, you will not only know what to expect but also be able to learn more. By taking advantage of this second chance you can learn new tools, dig deeper to find the root of your addiction and heal more deeply and permanently.

Build Upon This Experience

Build upon this experience, instead of judging yourself. View relapse as an opportunity rather than a failure. Use this chance to reinforce your recovery in deeper and more meaningful ways. Make new sober friends. Learn more about how to beat addictions and learn more about yourself. Learning what it means to fall and then help yourself back up makes you stronger and more resilient. As your resilience grows, your strength to prevent future relapses increases too. Relapse is not a failure. It is a reminder and a warning against complacency in your recovery. Use this chance wisely.

What should you do if you relapse? Be honest but gentle with yourself.  Your first step is reaching out to your sponsor or support network. Cliffside Malibu offers treatment using evidence-based practices in a beautiful and luxurious setting. We accept most major forms of insurance and can quickly obtain approval for you. Call us today at (855) 403-5641