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How to Deal With Drug and Alcohol Relapse

man rubbing eyes in distress

Whether you’ve been sober for a week or a few years, relapse can happen if you’re not careful. It’s important to remember that relapse is not a moral failing, but there are steps that you can take in order to prevent relapse.

What Causes Relapse?

Recovery is not an instant cure, it’s a lifelong journey, and relapse is very common, especially in early recovery. There are a variety of factors that can cause a relapse - both internal and external, including the following.

  1. Decline in mental health. As a person moves into the recovery stage, it is common for them to start neglecting their mental health, and underestimate the importance of self-care and going easy on themselves.

    This may also occur because although the person has stopped drinking or consuming drugs, they are not addressing the underlying mental health issues that caused them to seek out substances in the first place. 


  2. Not making sobriety your top priority. Getting sober takes a lot of work, but staying sober also takes work. Making sobriety your top priority will help the other areas of your life run more smoothly. You cannot be the best friend, partner, or parent if you are not putting your sobriety first.

  3. Not establishing effective boundaries. When you first get sober, your life is inevitably going to change, and it will take some trial and error to figure out what you need in order to stay strong.

    Setting boundaries with people who encourage you to drink or use drugs is going to be essential for your recovery. It may be difficult to say “no” to them initially, and they may have a hard time understanding your newfound sobriety, but it’s important to put your own needs first during this time.

    It is also essential to set boundaries with yourself and understand your triggers. For example, you may avoid driving down a certain road if you know that it will be a trigger for you.  

  4. Overconfidence. Overconfidence is a very dangerous mindset to have in recovery. You may convince yourself that you have mastered recovery, and you no longer need to attend meetings, or that you can handle having just one drink at an event. This can lead to a slippery slope of allowing yourself to bend your own rules and boundaries.

  5. Boredom/Loneliness. Experiencing boredom in early recovery is very common, because you are no longer experiencing the constant dopamine rush you got from your substance of choice, which causes everyday activities to feel boring in comparison. It is important to keep yourself busy in early recovery, since boredom can be a massive threat to your recovery.

    To avoid boredom, try to spend time with fellow sober individuals, and engage in new activities. Not every activity will be fun or exciting, but with time you will come to realize that it is possible to have fun without the use of drugs or alcohol. 

man drinking alcohol in the dark

Stages of Relapse

Relapse doesn’t just happen - it is actually a gradual process that typically happens in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Being aware of these three stages of relapse can help prevent relapse before it occurs.

1. Emotional Relapse

This stage is the rise or resurfacing of negative emotions such as irritability, anxiety, or anger. The person isn’t necessarily thinking about their substance of choice at this point, but their emotions and behavior may lead to cravings. At this stage, it’s essential to address how you are feeling, and take care of yourself emotionally.

2. Mental Relapse

During a mental relapse, the individual actively considers the idea of drinking or using again in order to relieve their emotional distress. This can cause a war in the mind between wanting to drink/use and wanting to remain sober.

The individual may even come up with excuses in their mind, or convince themselves that they can handle a small amount. At this point, it’s important to stay busy, continue attending meetings and spend time with fellow sober individuals. 

3. Physical Relapse

When the warning signs of emotional and mental relapse go unaddressed, this can lead to a real physical relapse, where the person takes physical actions in order to obtain drugs or alcohol. If a physical relapse occurs, don’t lose sight of why you chose to get sober in the first place.   

Strategies to Prevent Future Relapse

In order to prevent future relapse, you must put strategies in place to protect yourself, and be aware of the warning signs of a relapse. Some helpful strategies include:

  • Take care of your mental health and set aside time for yourself.
  • Surround yourself with positive influences.
  • Immerse yourself in a sober community.
  • Attend meetings regularly.
  • Establish healthy and effective coping mechanisms.
  • Evaluate what led to your relapse, and take the necessary steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

Ultimately, you need to stay focused on your own recovery rather than comparing it to someone else’s. Everyone’s recovery journey is going to look different, and recovery is not a linear path. If you relapse once or multiple times, do not give up on your recovery. You are still worthy of recovery, and there is help available to you if you have relapsed. 

At Paramount Recovery Center, we prepare you for life post-treatment, so that the only thing that changes upon your departure is where you live. Contact us today to determine if our addiction recovery program would be a good fit for you. 

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