What Happens if I Relapse?

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on February 1, 2021.

Many individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction equate relapse with failure, defeat and hopelessness. Yet, relapse is nothing to be ashamed of. Whether you've slipped up once or many times, relapse is a part of the recovery process for many.

Relapse is frustrating, and you may feel like giving up and giving in to the addiction you've worked so hard to overcome. Instead, use this experience as a learning tool. Understanding what you can do when you experience relapse will lay the foundation for lifelong recovery and a better life.

Does Relapse Mean My Treatment Program Failed?

Absolutely not. Addiction is characterized by its chronic and relapsing nature. For some, returning to drug or alcohol use after attempting to quit is part of the process. It's estimated that 40% to 60% of those with a substance use disorder experience relapse at some point. Addiction should be treated like other chronic illnesses, like hypertension or asthma. Relapse should serve as a sign that current treatment should be modified or a new program attempted.

What Causes Relapse?

Whether it's a fleeting desire to use or a temporary moment of weakness, those in recovery need to be hypervigilant. There are some red flags you can look out for that can cause relapse if you're not careful, such as:

  • Not prioritizing your sobriety: Recovery requires hard work, which may include meetings, counseling, treatment programs and possibly medication for a co-occurring mental health condition. Without this commitment, you may neglect the importance of your sobriety.
  • Lack of support: Those new to recovery need a solid support system. From family and friends to sponsors and counselors, these individuals will keep you accountable and offer guidance when the road gets rough.
  • Not quitting for yourself: In many cases, people enter treatment to please their spouse, their parents or their friends. They don't quit for their own sake. If you're not truly committed to your health, your risk of relapse is higher.
  • Lack of preparation: Post-treatment, a relapse prevention plan is vital for transitioning into a regular, better life. This plan will help you understand the situations and people that can sabotage your recovery, including unhealthy habits, toxic relationships and social isolation. Identifying triggers protects your newfound sobriety.

The Next Step After Relapse

Whether your relapse was an isolated occurrence or you've fallen back into a pattern of substance misuse, you may need the structure and stability of an addiction treatment program. Even if you've gone through inpatient rehab before,  your focus here should be on what it will take to transition back to regular life.

Find a program that uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to ensure you're able to identify and address triggers. Explore adjunct therapies and activities like art, yoga and exercise to learn how to relax and refocus. Make sure your program knows if you have an underlying mental health condition like anxiety or depression. Then, once your treatment is complete, use the strategies and tools you learned to feel more empowered and prepared.

Keep Going on the Road to a Better Life

Don’t allow relapse to keep you in a cycle of shame and substance misuse. Find the help you need at Diamond House Detox. At our home-like facility in Northern California, you'll find evidence-based treatment and care to help you fight addiction once and for all. Contact us to get started.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet