You finally made it through your treatment and you are doing alright. You are able to stay away from drugs or alcohol for a while which is a good thing. And then one night, just like that, a friend asked you out for a drink. Just one drink, it won’t hurt you, right? The next thing you know, your addiction has a hold of you all over again. Relapse.

It is frustrating to know that you have slipped back into using drugs or alcohol after working so hard to stay sober. It can be a humiliating experience that leaves you feeling guilty and ashamed. Unfortunately, you are not the only one in this boat. About 60% of recovering addicts have experienced relapse at least once in their recovery period. It’s a completely normal and even expected part of the process.

Relapse is Not the End

Now, you can’t go back to the moment you took a sip of that drink or ingested that drug and undo it, you must leave any guilt and shame over that in the past. The only thing you have to focus from now on is the future and how you can recover from this setback.

Of course, this could come as heartbreaking news to your family and friends, but the only thing you can do is forgive yourself and ask for their forgiveness and support as well. Before you break down and blame yourself for this situation, remember that relapse is not uncommon for anyone who is going through recovery. Relapse can teach us important lessons about what our strongest triggers are, and inform us on how we can avoid them moving forward. This is not the end of the road for you. In fact there are plenty of opportunities in this situation that you can turn into something positive. Here are helpful tips for how to bounce back after relapsing:

Forgive yourself

Falling into relapse can evoke feelings of guilt, shame, humiliation, regrets, anger and a whole lot of emotions. During the initial phase of your relapse, it is normal to feel self-doubt, low self-esteem, being judged by others, lack of motivation, fatigue, irritation, aggression and even outburst of emotional distress. While this is very uncomfortable and difficult, you can use these emotions to learn from your experience. So be ready to experience all these, it will be a struggle but hang in there. Most importantly, be able to accept that it happened and don’t give up on yourself.

Change how you see relapse

Instead of feeling guilty about your relapse, try to challenge those negative thoughts be reframing how you view relapse. Think of it as seeing it as a way to increase your chance of staying back on track vs. abandoning your entire recovery journey, as a minor setback rather than total failure. Sometimes, how you react to setbacks determines how quickly you’ll be able to achieve your goal. Don’t let relapse slow you down and throw away everything you have worked hard for. Keep going no matter what.

Reach out for help

Addiction can be one of the loneliest experiences one can face, and relapse can make you feel even more isolated. Relapse can create rifts between family, friends, and relationships because many who have not experienced addiction themselves may see relapse as a failure on your part, or even a personal betrayal. But during recovery, having a support system to lean on is one of the biggest contributing factors to success (Boisvert, et. al). A strong support system consisting of people who understand how addiction works greatly reduces your chances of relapsing in the first place, but will also help you bounce back quicker in the event that you do relapse.

Attend a self-help group

There’s a reason why peer support groups are implemented in almost all recovery programs across the country. They provide a variety of benefits to a person who has made a commitment to achieving lifelong sobriety. There are plenty of 12-steps programs that you can register yourself with. You have AA or Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous as well as SMART Recovery as your options, just to name a few. Here you can be with people who will not judge you for going into relapse, and you have the opportunity to learn from their experiences as well. They can teach you how you can cope and overcome this situation.

Avoid triggers

Triggers are usually the cause of your relapse and increase the need for using drugs and alcohol. To prevent yourself from relapsing, you must remove yourself from all these triggers as much as you can. This also includes people, places and other things that remind you of your substance abuse. IF these triggers cannot be avoided, make sure to minimize your contact with them. It is better to stay away from old habits than falling back into them.

Set your boundaries

Setting limits for yourself and others will help protect you from experiencing stress and emotional issues that can lead to relapse. Weak boundaries can lead to negative emotions like anger and resentment. This can pose danger to your recovery. One of the best examples of setting boundaries is to refrain from being in contact with people who bring you down. Abusive family members or friends can create a toxic environment in your life that is not conducive to recovery. Saying no is not a sign of weakness, but rather a start of setting a straight path. Completely removing toxic people from your life is perfectly acceptable. Don’t be afraid to let go of people who are only there to drag you down.

Prepare a new plan

Your relapse does not mean that your treatment has failed. In fact, this is an opportunity to revise your plan and consider other options to take in order not to fail again. With the help of your addiction treatment specialist, you can work out a new plan or strategy to take so you don’t fall into relapse again. Understanding why your relapse occurred will help you adjust the treatment plan that you currently have in order to address these triggers and avoid relapsing. Perhaps you need to undergo intensive treatment or have new approaches. Building your foundation again can help you; this way when you transition back home, you have new tools to use and apply in case new challenges arise.

Expect new challenges

Relapsing gives you the chance to reflect on things, and you will be able to look ahead and predict the challenges that may come your way. Expecting these challenges will give you more time to equip yourself with an in-depth plan on how you can deal with it. This adds another level of confidence on your part when you allow your mind to perceive these things and see how you can handle them. These could be:

  • Triggers
  • Family issues
  • Emotional stress and social pressures
  • Physical challenges
  • Financial problems
  • Feelings of isolation, loneliness and despair

Relapse is Not the End

Yeah, it sucks, and yeah, in a perfect world it wouldn’t happen. But these are the obstacles that make us stronger and build resilience when we learn to overcome them. See these setbacks as opportunities for growth, and the journey will get easier and easier.

Luckily, by reading this article, you are taking a very important step in your recovery journey. This is part of building the knowledge needed to fight the conditions that lead to relapse and understanding what steps to take following relapse to get back on your feet. By arming yourself with information and coping skills, you are putting yourself in a very good position to steer clear of turning back to your addiction when times get tough.

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