What to Do When You Relapse

When you’re walking the road to recovery, sometimes a relapse occurs. It’s actually quite common. In fact, those in early recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction relapse at least once while they’re on their sobriety journey.  Just as addiction is a learned behavior, so is recovery.

So, what do you do when you relapse? Do you give up? Just keep drinking or using drugs? Do you beat yourself up over and over thinking you’ll never get it right?

You don’t have to.

You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back into recovery full force. If you’ve relapsed, don’t delay in getting yourself sober again. Do what it takes.

Take Joe, for instance. He’s been drinking heavily for about five years.  For the most part, Joe did not think he had a problem with alcohol. He simply liked to drink and liked the way it made him feel. He would get up and go to work, come home, and drink a 12 pack every evening. He would get up to go to work, and not really have any serious consequences from his drinking habits.

Then, he got into a relationship, and his new girlfriend was not thrilled that he drank so much.  She said that he would start the evening off fine, but by 9 pm he’d be fairly drunk and start talking her ear off. He would say ridiculous things and make some jokes that offended her.  The next day she would talk to him about it, and he would blow it off or just tell her to lighten up.

Then, she gave him an ultimatum; it’s either the alcohol or her.  Joe, not really wanting to give up drinking, yet not wanting to lose her, had to make a decision fast. He decided to give up drinking.

The first couple of days weren’t too challenging for him, but then he really started going through withdrawal and missing the booze. He became edgy, frustrated, and sad like he’d lost a good friend.

Joe decided to have a couple of beers while out with buddies after work, thinking it would be no big deal.  However, once he started drinking, he couldn’t stop. Before he knew it, he’d drank four beers at the bar, and then drank another six pack at home.

He’d relapsed.

An important decision

Now Joe had an important decision to make since he relapsed. He could get down on himself, and tell himself that he’s nothing but a drunk and continue to drink. He could take this relapse and can use it as a means to begin drinking again, telling himself that he just can’t stop drinking.

On the other hand, he could learn from this relapse, and get back up and start over. If he understood that relapse is sometimes a part of recovery, he’ll be able to look at the situation in a different perspective and be gentler with himself. He’ll be able to learn from this and learn that he can’t go have two beers with the guys after work. There are just some people who cannot be social drinkers, and Joe seems to be one of those. If he can come to terms with that, he’ll be less likely to relapse, as he’ll most likely make a commitment to complete absence.

The point of this story is that if someone is open to learning about addiction in general, and relapse prevention, he or she is much more likely to be successful in stopping drinking or driving. In Joe’s case, if he could be honest with himself, and realize that it’s best for him to not drink at all, he’ll be more likely to I stay sober.

At the same time, when relapse has become common, and the person cannot seem to stay sober on his or her own, itAnxiety and Alcoholism is then that reaching out for help from a substance abuse professional can be quite helpful.

Knowing ahead of time how to prepare for relapses, and what you can do if one occurs through a relapse prevention plan, can certainly serve you well.

Here are some great tips on how you can cope with a relapse:

  1. Don’t play the blame game. Stop pointing fingers at yourself or others concerning your relapse. It won’t do any good. Relapse happens and if you’ve relapsed, accept it and let it go. Get back into action on your road to recovery and stop dwelling on the past. Make changes to your relapse prevention plan if you must.
  2. Confess. Tell someone that you trust about your relapse. You don’t want to receive harsh judgment, so be sure that you tell someone who you feel will be non-judgmental. This could be your sponsor, counselor, a close friend, or a family member. By confessing your setback, you’re more apt to get up and dust yourself off as you commit to recovery afresh.
  3. Get to a 12 Step meeting. If you’re a 12 Step meeting participant, get to a meeting as soon as possible and pick up a white chip. This lets others know that yes, you’ve relapsed, but that you also are choosing to get back on the road to recovery. Most of the time, people who attend a 12-step support group understand relapse. In fact, many of them have probably relapsed at least once in their lifetime. Most of the time they will welcome you back with open arms, and encourage you to get back on the path to recovery and tweak your relapse prevention plan. And if you run into anyone who is judgmental, do your best to steer clear of them in the future.
  4. Discover why. Why did you relapse? Where did your relapse prevention plan go wrong? Were there signs that you were about to drink again? What led up to your relapse? When you discover why you relapsed, you can take actions toward contending with such in the future before you actually pick up a drink.
  5. Plan ahead. Make a relapse prevention plan. Write down your triggers and how you will contend with them should they come up. Relapse prevention plans can do wonders when they’re taken seriously and applied to your life. If you know that going to Uncle Jimmy’s will prompt you to have a brewski with him, then you might want to avoid Uncle Jimmy’s for a while. Or, you can let Uncle Jimmy know that you’re in recovery now, and you’d appreciate it if he wouldn’t pressure you into having a beer with him. If you’re not sure how to create a relapse prevention plan, do a little bit of research online. There are some worksheets and prevention plans that you can work with and individualize them to fit you. If you attend therapy, you can ask your therapist to help you create a relapse prevention plan.

What if you keep relapsing?

Let’s say you’ve try the relapse prevention plan but you continue to find yourself relapsing. What should you do? There are various options and each person may find success via a different route. Your job is to find what path will work for you.

Some people may begin attending more 12-step meetings, and working that program diligently. They may get a sponsor, and work through the steps in record time, really taking the time to focus on themselves and their recovery. The serve some people quite well.

Others may not be too keen on 12-step meetings, but good news is that there are other avenues to recovery. You may consider attending an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. There you’ll be able to meet with substance abuse professionals who will help you learn about addiction, and foster your recovery through counseling and a treatment plan.

Inpatient or outpatient rehab

There’s inpatient programs, where you leave your home and attend treatment for around 30 days. These are wonderful for those who are not restrained to be home and may need 24/7 support in early recovery. Outpatient programs work for those who cannot leave their home. There you’ll be able to attend sessions with substance abuse professionals usually around 3 to 4 times a week, and decreasing the frequency as you grow in your recovery. Regardless of what type of drug treatment program, you’ll be able to sit down and talk about what recovery is your best bet when it comes to your individual recovery.

Getting a therapist is also a great idea, so you’ll be able to really dig deep to see why it is you’re addicted to alcohol or a drug. You’ll be able to address any other issues you may be having emotionally, such as depression or anxiety. Also, if you’re struggling with a mental health disorder, such as bipolar, borderline personality disorder, or an anxiety disorder, you’ll be able to get the help that you need. He or she can also help you create a relapse prevention plan.

As you can see, there are various recovery modalities that can be beneficial to someone wanting to get free from alcoholism or addiction. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong, as each person may require something different. Your task is to find out what works for you, and if something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try something different.

Relapse prevention plan: Get back up after a relapse

Understand that relapses may occur, and you don’t have to beat yourself up when they do. You don’t have to let a relapse get the best of you. Dust yourself off and make a decision to get sober again and live a life free of alcohol. Get the support and encouragement you need in order to do so and before long you’ll be feeling much better.

Have you had a relapse? What did you do afterwards? How can you learn from your past relapses? What can you do different for the future?

If you need some assistance navigating your recovery path, please contact us today.