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Why Do People in Long Term Recovery Relapse and What to Do to Prevent It

You have brains in your head

Feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose.

- Dr. Suess

This blog addresses why a person who has been successful in long term recovery (5 years or more) relapses. Here are a few of the signs that precede an actual relapse to watch for:

  • Isolation from support system

  • Believing that there is no longer a need to be diligent in monitoring thoughts

  • Believing that they can now return to old behaviors such as hanging around old friends at bars, rock concerts, etc.

  • Reconnecting in any way with old friends that are still using

In my search for the major factors that guide us back to these above behaviors and create a relapse, one of the big ones that I have found is complacency. It’s human nature that once things are going well and we are free from chaos a long time, we lower our guard in regards to the kind of diligence that we pursued in early recovery. Some people who have achieved long-term recovery and then relapsed have also told me that they even begin to think that they don’t have a problem and can drink socially. These belief systems are just another form of denial that open the door to potential relapse. Other times I’ve discovered that even after years of maintaining frequent conscious contact with a higher power, our spiritual and meditation practices may become infrequent or eliminated completely from our lives.

What should a person in long-term recovery do to keep it going?

  • Learn life skills and continue to develop and maintain healthy relationships with people in recovery programs and in their personal life

  • Follow the spiritual Program recovery that got them to the place of years clean and sober living

  • Set reasonable and concrete goals for their life

  • Maintain rigorously honesty with themselves and other people in the recovery circle

  • Maintain awareness with the people places and things that may trigger a relapse and learn to recognize in the here and now any feelings that could be arising from these particular triggers

  • Seek help to learn life skills to stay sober and to achieve their potential

  • Continue a healthy diet, get enough sleep and exercise

  • Maintain the commitment that was made in early recovery to do whatever it takes on a daily basis to stay off alcohol and/or drugs

  • Diligently focus to resolve childhood wounds and unresolved traumas

  • Last but certainly not least is to remember to be of service to others. This includes newcomers in the program, and helping just anybody that needs help in their circle of friends and family. We get to keep our sobriety but giving it away to other people and by being kind to everyone in general.


My professional and personal experience has proved that those of us who get into long-term recovery and remain successful without relapses apply the diligence of daily recovery processes. We pay attention to how we’re feeling and share them with others. We stay in touch with our support system that helped us stay achieve sobriety in the first place. When new situations come up in life that we’re having a very hard time handling, we seek help from those in our support system. We consult with professionals that allow us to resolve trauma. We pray and meditate daily, asking our higher power for guidance. Every day we begin with an attitude of gratitude for recovery and for the things we have in life to keep ourselves focused on what’s working. We avoid self-pity parties and thoughts that would lead us back to using. We learn to have fun and do so often. When someone tells us that we are on the relapse train, we listen and double down on our efforts to understand how to exit this train before it leaves the station. In short, we accept that we are different than other people and require an extra diligence to keep our lives on track.

For family members and friends with someone in long-term recovery, please share this blog with your recovering loved one. Open and honest communication is one of the most important processes for the person in recovery to keep alcohol and drugs at bay.

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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