What to do after a relapse

What is a relapse?

A relapse to addiction happens when the person with the past addiction starts engaging in their addictive behaviour again after a period of abstinence.
For example, someone who had completely stopped drinking for a period of time, say 6 months, would be experiencing a relapse if they began drinking in an unhealthy manner. If they had just one drink, they might be considered as having a ‘slip', but not a full relapse.

Is relapse a sign of failure?

Though relapse is an expected stage in the recovery process, many people attempting to quit an addiction will feel they have failed if they relapse. They might abandon their efforts, feeling that quitting is too difficult for them.
Accepting that relapse is a normal part of the process of recovery is a more helpful way of looking at relapse. Individuals and treatment programmes that take this view are more successful in overcoming addiction.

The stages of relapse


Emotional relapse: A stage where people's behaviours and emotions place them at a higher risk of future use of substance (e.g. they might be experiencing isolation, anxiety, poor self-care, and low social support)


Mental relapse: A stage where people are thinking about using the substance and perhaps even missing the people and places they associated with their substance use


Physical relapse: Actual usage of the substance once again

How to respond to a relapse positively

Anticipate the factors that might cause you to engage in your addictive behaviour again - and plan ahead for these situations.
It is important to remain focused on recovery immediately after a relapse. Thinking through what led to the relapse is an important step in avoiding it from happening again. For example, were there any triggers that happened just before the relapse, either positive or negative?

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