Bouncing Back and Starting Over After a Relapse

Bouncing Back and Starting Over After a Relapse

By In Addiction Recovery, Family Based Recovery, Tools for Recovery
Posted September 28, 2017

After working so hard on your sobriety, realizing that you have relapsed and returned to your old habits is a terrible feeling. You’re likely to feel regret, guilt, and shame, and you may fear that you’ve let your loved ones down.

But it’s what you do next that truly matters.

Do you give up on yourself and your recovery? Or do you look at this as an opportunity for growth, a chance to learn more about your relapse triggers and how you can better address them in the future?

View Recovery as a Process

While the first option is certainly the easiest, it’s important to remember that recovery is a process that will likely have its up and downs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 40-60% of drug addicts in recovery relapse.

NIDA explains that drug addiction should be treated “like any other chronic illness” and that relapse does not mean treatment has failed. Instead, it means that treatment should be “reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried.” Treating chronic diseases means changing deeply imbedded habits and addressing underlying issues, and this takes time, along with some trial and error.

Similarly, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that approximately 90% of alcoholics are likely to relapse at least once during the four years following treatment.

It’s easier said than done, but try not to be too hard on yourself following a relapse. Remember that recovery is a process, and don’t let this setback diminish your confidence in your ability to recover. Diminished confidence can lead to more lapses in the future.

Take Action

woman calling her sponsor

After a relapse, it’s crucial to take action in order to avoid further regression. One immediate step you can take is to call your sponsor, or arrange to meet with your sponsor in person. During this conversation, your sponsor can help you come up with an action plan that will get you back on the path to recovery.

Although it will be very difficult, you should also talk to your loved ones about your relapse. Ask for their continued support and encouragement, because you will need it as you continue on your recovery journey.

If you have experienced a major relapse that has lasted for an extended period of time, it may be advisable to return to treatment. This is a decision that you can also discuss with your sponsor and loved ones.

You may decide not to return to treatment. If this is the case, you should still make and firmly commit to a recovery plan. This can include attending weekly meetings, going to counseling, checking in with your sponsor, etc.

Learn from The Experience

man surrendering his addiction to God - 12 step program

After relapsing, you need to take time to reflect on what happened and why it happened.

  • What can you do differently to avoid this type of regression in the future?
  • Is there anything or anyone in particular that must be avoided?
  • Are there lifestyle changes you need to make?

Relapse can be caused by both external and internal triggers. External triggers include people, places, and things (like paraphernalia) that remind you of your former drug or alcohol addiction and cause cravings. External triggers can also be events, like a holiday party where everyone is drinking alcohol.

Were there any external triggers that caused your recent relapse? Consider making a list of people, places, and things that can trigger your addiction. These may include people you once used with, places you purchased drugs, or even the sight of drugs or alcohol. Then, make a conscious effort to stay away from these external triggers in the future. This may mean turning down invitations that can be a threat to your sobriety.

Internal triggers are negative emotions like stress, anger, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, insecurity, etc. These triggers are harder to avoid, but you can address them before they spiral out of control. When you experience these emotions, talk to someone or keep busy with healthy and positive activities. Consider entering therapy to address underlying issues and learn helpful coping strategies.

Additionally, try to eat healthy, exercise, and sleep well. Caring for yourself makes you feel better and can help you avoid many of the internal triggers that lead to relapse.


If you relapse, don’t view yourself as a failure. Recovery is a long-term process, and regression is likely to happen at some point.

Use this as an opportunity to firmly recommit to your sobriety, explore what triggers your addiction, and develop strategies for addressing and avoiding these triggers in the future.

Responding to your relapse in a positive and healthy manner can help you return to the path of recovery even stronger than before.

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