drug relapse

Life After Drug Relapse: Where Do I Go From Here?

Experiencing A Drug Relapse

Most recovery professionals teach those addicts who are in the process of recovering that drug relapse is an expected, natural part of the addiction recovery process. In fact, most individuals will often experience relapse multiple times, extending the period between slips from weeks to months and years. Oftentimes it’s the accrued sober time that best prevents an individual from relapsing, which would suggest that relapse becomes less likely over time.

However, it’s important to remember that there’s no point in time when relapse is impossible. While it’s hoped that recovered addicts will attain lifelong sobriety, even on the first try, realistically speaking an addict in recovery and those in his or her life should recognize the possibility of relapse and be prepared for appropriate courses of action when or if relapse occurs. Naturally, this may lead some to ask the question, “What do I do after a relapse?”

Fortunately, the journey of recovery does not end at drug relapse. Part of the reason that relapse is taught to individuals as an expected and natural part of recovery is so individuals in recovery won’t become so discouraged with a relapse that they give up on recovery altogether and continue to use. Though regrettable, relapse should be considered a temporary detour or a wrong turn on the road toward permanent rehabilitation. In that respect, when individuals are driving along an unfamiliar road and become lost, it’s often necessary to stop and ask for help, which is exactly the course of action a recovering addict must take when he or she experiences a drug relapse. As such, those in recovery should whom they should ask for help, which is good information for the loved ones of recovered addicts to know as well. In the event that an individual in recovery should relapse, here’s what he or she should do next.

Accept the Mistake and Maintain Resolve in Recovery

There are two different types of relapse. In the first drug relapse, the individual—either with a tenuous hold on his or her sobriety for a few weeks or perhaps having abstained for months or years—is so discouraged by the relapse that he or she gives up on recovery completely, continuing with the alcohol or drug use. In this care, the individual has essentially reverted to pre-treatment addiction and will have to start over. On the other hand, the other type of relapse might be more accurately called a “slip,” which indicates a momentary lapse of judgement that the individual immediately recognizes as a mistake and after which the individual continues recovery as before. These slips are typically either a single event or a short period, but they’re characteristically shorter and end before the individual reverts back to their full-blown addictive behavior.

Most of the time shortly after a recovered addict slips, he or she will experience a moment where they feel guilty for succumbing to the disease of addiction and the temptation to use. How he or she reacts to that guilt—either by giving up on recovery altogether and experiencing a full relapse or by accepting the mistake and continuing with recovery—has a lot to do with morale and with their prior addiction education. If individuals are aware from the beginning that a drug relapse is a natural, expected part of the recovery process, they are less likely to be so hard on themselves when relapse happens that they feel they’ve already irreparably damaged their recovery to the point that they might as well just continue using. When an individual experiences a slip, he or she must immediately accept the situation, recognize that it doesn’t nullify their efforts, and remember that it’s still within his or her control whether the journey to recovery is continued; relapse doesn’t equal failure to the extent that recovery is no longer possible, but rather is a bump in the road after which recovery can still be continued.

Increase Participation in Aftercare Services

Relapse, in its most basic sense, should be considered evidence that there is more work to be done and the motivation to continue working toward recovery. As such, one of the best responses to relapse is to either continue or increase participation in aftercare services. Specifically, it would be a good idea for a recovered addict who has relapsed to participate in an intensive outpatient treatment program so that he or she can receive an additional addiction education. The counseling and therapy sessions that are offered as part of outpatient programs would be especially helpful since professional counselors can help the individual identify what factors or variables contributed to the drug relapse in order to find ways to prevent those factors from triggering another relapse in the future.

Attend More Twelve-Step and Support Group Meetings

Most aftercare programs either include or encourage participation in a variety of support groups, the most popular of which is often identified as twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and so on. Recovering addicts have shown to benefit from these support groups, particularly twelve-step groups, as it provides these individuals with a forum through which they can share thoughts and experiences, foster a support group and sense of community, and help others who might be experiencing similar thoughts, feelings, and temptations.

Additionally, since support groups are led by peers who are also recovered addicts, most of the participants will have also experienced slips and relapses, making them great resources to someone who has just relapsed and is feeling discouraged or insecure. Twelve-step programs also encourage recovering addicts to obtain a sponsor, which is an individual’s personal on-call supporter that he or she can call in moments of weakness, fear, frustration, and other times when he or she feels their grasp on sobriety is slipping; this is a great way to prevent relapse in the future.

Involve Loved Ones

Recovering addicts who have relapsed will often feel self-conscious, guilty, and embarrassed, and consequently these individuals may try to keep their relapses a secret from loved ones. The fear is that if loved ones find out about a relapse, they’ll lose faith in the recovered addict and his or her ability to achieve long-term abstinence and permanent sobriety. However, it’s important to involve loved ones in the recovery process, especially in the event of a relapse; admitting a relapse will show loved ones that the individual knows the relapse was a mistake while opening him or herself up to the encouragement and support of loved ones. Relapse is a regrettable mistake and will initially be upsetting to loved ones, but admitting the mistake to loved ones shows them that the relapse was a slip rather than a long-term relapse into addiction, which will actually serve to reinforce faith in the addict and his or her recovery.

An addict’s attitude can make a world of difference after a relapse. Individuals who are recovering from addiction must refrain from abandoning all hope because of a slip, allowing it to become a permanent reversion to addiction. It’s incredibly easy to become discouraged to the point of thinking, “What’s the point? I already screwed up, so there’s no point in trying to continue with my recovery.” This sort of thinking is defeatist, irrational, and even unrealistic. As mentioned above and taught in treatment programs around the world, relapse is a natural, expected part of the recovery process; however, an addict’s response to relapse has everything to do with whether that relapse is merely a bump in the road or means the sacrifice of all his or her hard work.

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction and is at risk of relapsing, Drug Treatment Center Finder can match you or your loved with to the outpatient program or aftercare that you need to maintain recovery. Don’t let addiction beat you; beat your addiction today.

  1. This write up just put me back on track and helped me to refocus myself on my recovery after a slip and I was at the turning point of just giving up or getting my books out and getting back to work!

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