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Experienced a Relapse? What to Do Next

The recovery community continues to be at high risk for relapse due to COVID-19. Quarantine, social distancing, job losses, financial strains, etc. have challenged the recovery of many addicts and alcoholics. Many have relapsed during this unprecedented time and are in need of help now.

Sometimes we fall down even when we try our best to stand up. Unfortunately, experiencing a relapse is part of recovery for tens of thousands of individuals. My addiction counseling practice in part focuses on how to make such an experience not only a brief setback, but also an opportunity for growth in sobriety.

Learning the coping skills necessary to handle life on life’s terms isn’t always easy. As we’ve all just seen, highly stressful, sad or scary situations can emerge in the blink of an eye. Likewise, experiencing very joyful times can be stressful because we may not be used to them. These sudden and powerful feelings can sometimes overwhelm us and lead to a relapse. If you or a loved one has relapsed and you’re reading this, please know there’s still hope to regain your recovery.

Here are some specific steps I recommend to regain your sobriety after a relapse. Although this is not an exhaustive list, I believe these are some of the most important things to consider as you make your way back to recovery.

Embrace the Tears

Experiencing a relapse can be very upsetting and painful. In the aftermath of using again feelings of guilt, shame and even self-hate are common. While in the midst of these intense feelings, we often forget that recovery is still possible. Allow yourself to process these feelings out loud with someone you trust. This will keep you from staying overwhelmed and possibly halt active addiction. Take some time to put things in perspective. Contact your sponsor, your therapist or a good friend that’s in solid recovery. Contact your recovery support system to help bring the intense feelings into perspective and get you grounded once again.

Refine Your Relapse Prevention Process

Once you’ve been able to regain perspective, dive deeper into the thoughts, beliefs, triggers, high risk situations and people that contributed to your relapse. Understanding your vulnerabilities to relapse makes you less likely to relapse in the future. Relapse prevention plans may need to be modified as at this time to strengthen the process so another relapse becomes less likely. Consult with professionals skilled in relapse prevention and recovery to resolve all conflicts or traumas that contributed to the relapse. Remember long-term recovery requires rigorous honesty and asking for help.

Remember What Made You a Winner

Review what kept you clean and sober before the relapse. The things that keep your addictive cravings in check is what you need now. Was it AA or another recovery focused group? A sober support team? Your therapist? Your sponsor or significant other? Stick with the winners and do the things that make YOU a winner! Going back to the basics is always a safe bet. See my blog on “Bumper Sticker Recovery” for some great suggestions.

Seek Medically Supervised Detox

Once you decide to stop using again, remember that going “cold turkey” can be dangerous. Certain medications like benzodiazepines and alcohol are dangerous to detox from by simply just stopping. Use good judgment and consult with a medical professional who understands the process of detoxing from substances. Even if you are not totally convinced that you need a detox, consult with a physician anyway. Always better safe than sorry!

Make Amends Now

Be honest with your family and friends who love you. Let them know that you understand how hard this must be for them and that you are re-committing yourself to a clean and sober life. Be willing to allow them to be angry, hurt and scared. Being honest and making amends for your relapse often provides you an opportunity to resolve many of the feelings that could take you back to substance abuse again.

Get Up One More Time Than You Fall

What I mean here is simply don’t give up. As hard as it seems what waits for you if you don’t return to long term recovery is honestly worse. Be willing to do whatever it takes to get back up and keep moving forward. The committed person learns from their mistakes and doesn’t allow them to define their journey.

Evaluate the Need to Enter Treatment

With your sponsor, perhaps your therapist if you have one and your recovery community, explore whether or not you may need more treatment. Humility coupled with honesty is important.

Embrace Gratitude and Hope

One of the major breakthroughs in the last decade in psychotherapy is the understanding that a positive, reality-based frame of mind is essential to attain a life that’s functional and sane. Practices like prayer and meditation and cognitive behavior therapy are useful after a relapse. Make a gratitude list. Embrace even a small ray of hope. Research shows that gratitude and hope are some of the pillars of overcoming setbacks.


Always remember, sobriety is “progress and not perfection.” Reframe this experience as an opportunity to grow and strengthen yourself and your recovery program. A relapse is a setback, but it definitely is not a life sentence!

Suggested Reading:

Here's some more information that may be of interest to you:

Isolation Is Our Enemy: How to Stay Sober in the Coronavirus Pandemic

What Causes Addiction?

Are Trauma & Addiction Connected?

How Do You Know If You Have a Drinking Problem?

Could Your Brain be Wired for Alcoholism?

Spiritual Life of Children & Addiction: Are They Connected?

Why Are Teens & Young Adults So Susceptible to Drug Use?

Talk to Your Children About Drugs Before It’s Too Late

If you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, it is very important for you to seek out professional help as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I may be of assistance to you or your loved ones. My website provides more information on my practice and how to contact me with questions or take advantage of a free 20-minute phone appointment.

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