A relapse is a series of activities and events that lead to a return to substance abuse. Developing coping skills, which make it possible to prevent and disrupt this series of events, is an important part of maintaining long-term sobriety.

A relapse prevention program is an integral component of any addiction treatment program and an asset to every recovering addict.


Relapse might mean that you lose some ground of your recovery. Chronic relapsers, in particular, may feel some intense frustrations at the setback a relapse represents in their life. It can affect your health, job, relationships, legal standing, and several other things that are important to you. It’s important to note that a relapse doesn’t mean that all the effort you’ve put into your recovery has failed. With each relapse, you can still take what you’ve learned, revisit your treatment options, make adjustments to your relapse prevention plan, and approach your recovery with new insight. If you have lapsed into drug and alcohol use again (and even multiple times), there is still hope for lasting recovery.

However, a relapse does come with challenges and consequences. For instance, multiple relapses may have legal ramifications like parole violations or problems with child custody. But a relapse can also pose a threat to your health and well-being. Drug overdose often happens during a relapse. People who abuse drugs for a long time can build a considerable tolerance to their substance of choice. They get used to taking an amount that is much higher than the average person. However, you lose that tolerance when you go through detox. If you use the drug again, your safe dose will be closer to a safe dose for an average person.

If you take your regular dose, it can lead to a dangerous overdose. Plus, people who remove themselves from a lifestyle of active addiction may lose touch with dealers and drug-using friends that used to be their regular sources of drugs. If you find a new source during a relapse, the strength of the dose may be unpredictable. A new source of something like heroin may have unknown additives, like the much more pototent fentanyl.


Relapse is often thought of as a single moment of weakness when you take a drink or lapse into drug use again after achieving sobriety. However, relapse is something that begins long before you pick up that drink. There are several stages of relapse and protecting your sobriety becomes more and more difficult with each passing stage. Finally, once you do take that drink or that hit, it’s entirely likely to happen again. The key to preventing relapse is learning to recognize the beginning stages of relapse and avoid it altogether.

Relapse comes in three stages, including:


An emotional relapse involves negative emotions that can lead to triggers and high-risk situations. You may not be thinking about using again, but negative feelings can set you on a path to relapse. Everyone feels stressed, anger, and sadness at times. Avoiding an emotional relapse is learning to deal with those emotions with positive coping strategies.


Mental relapse is when you start to think about using drugs or alcohol to cope with triggers, negative emotions, or life problems. Signs of mental relapse include rationalizing drug use, remembering using drugs fondly, thinking about places where you used to use, and imagining ways you might be able to control drug use. At this stage, you might be at war in your mind, oscillating between fighting against a possible relapse and entertaining the idea.


At this point, you take your first actual drink or consume a drug since you last achieved sobriety. Once you cross that line, it’s likely that you will again. It’s vital for you to seek help and to revisit treatment options to get back to your recovery. One of the biggest mistakes people make at this point is to give in to hopelessness and just resign yourself to active addiction. It’s a common occurance, and you are not alone. But a relapse never means that you are incapable of sobriety. You need to take your experience and apply it to new relapse prevention strategies.


  • Coping skills for triggers, cravings and situations that incite a desire to use
  • A support system of others who can help you anticipate and prevent relapse
  • Skills that prevent a momentary slip from becoming a full-blown return to substance abuse

To maintain sobriety, it is important to make lifestyle changes and always have a plan in place to minimize the chance of relapse. The ideal relapse prevention plan is different for each individual and will need to be developed and honed throughout addiction treatment and the rest of your life.

By attending our substance abuse prevention program, you will feel more confident in knowing that you have help if these cravings begin to happen. We customize our relapse prevention program to coincide with the underlying cause of the addiction.


A relapse is about more than just returning to drug use. It’s about falling back into a cycle of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors which justify and perpetuate the return to substance abuse.

At the beginning of a relapse, we may feel resistant to the changes we’re making in recovery. Though we might not immediately begin using again, we may start to lose faith in treatment and put ourselves in high-risk situations. As cravings grow stronger, and we begin to feel that old behaviors will help us relieve them, the risk of returning to substance abuse continues to grow until we may eventually give in.

It’s important to understand that the desire to use is natural for any alcoholic or drug addict.

Many people experience a relapse or multiple relapses during recovery, and this never means that long-term sobriety is impossible to achieve.


At any point in the relapse cycle, it is possible to stop the process from continuing. Any time you experience thoughts, feelings or behaviors that may indicate a relapse is coming, you need to put your relapse prevention plan into motion. This can be accomplished by:


When you struggle with difficult emotions, begin to fall into old behaviors or recognize that a relapse may be imminent, it’s important to immediately reach out to the members of your support system, like:

  • Your Sponsor
  • Your Counselor
  • Other Healthy People Who are Going Through Recovery
  • Healthy People Outside Recovery Who can Encourage You and Help You Remain Sober

All of these individuals can help you navigate the difficult feelings and experiences that can lead to a relapse. Reengaging with them is the most important thing you can do to prevent a relapse. Because these individuals may also be able to recognize signs that you are at risk of relapse, it is important to stay in consistent contact with them


Rather than allowing yourself to disconnect from treatment and resume substance abuse, it’s important to reinforce your dedication to the activities and organizations that will help you remain abstinent. You can recommit to recovery by:

  • Going to an AA, NA or Other Group Meeting
  • Attending an Individual Counseling Session
  • Engaging in Healthy Alternative Activities like Exercise or Meditation

A relapse prevention plan is a valuable part of maintaining sobriety for any recovering addict. But regardless of what happens, do not ever feel that you have slipped too far to return to treatment or reach out for support. Help is always available.

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