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Relapse: How To Deal With Addiction Relapse

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

Addiction Relapse Recovery

It is not uncommon for individuals recovering from addiction frequently encounter relapses. Many individuals dealing with addiction may relapse at least once in the recovery phase. Some people may fall off the wagon several times before getting sober. Many people lose their families, employment, and their health as a consequence of relapse. Having an understanding about the triggers which might plunge you into relapse, and having a comprehensive relapse prevention plan in place for managing any, and all triggers are very important for preventing a relapse.

Relapse Stages

Stages Of Relapse

Relapse prevention is a vital part of recovering from an addiction. Frequent relapses hamper individuals from overcoming their addiction. It is important to understand that relapse is a process, rather than an event. There are certain stages of relapse, starting with an “emotional relapse”, followed by a “mental relapse” and “physical relapse”. Understanding about the stages of relapse may allow for the early recognition of initial signs and symptoms of relapse.

Emotional Relapse:

An emotional relapse may occur when a person remembers their last use when they are thinking about it, but may not want to use it again. However, their emotions and resulting behaviors are laying the foundations for a relapse. Individuals in this stage are often not planning to relapse but are usually at risk of relapsing. Signs of emotional relapse include isolation, avoiding attending meetings, focusing too much on other people’s problems, disturbed sleep patterns, and disturbed eating patterns. The main goal during this stage is to help the person understand the importance of maintaining a healthy schedule and importance of self-care. He/she can be made aware of their denial and can be helped by allowing them to understand their triggers.

Emotional Relapse

Mental Relapse:

The person may face an internal struggle between the desire to use/ consume and the desire to remain abstinent during this stage. Some major signs of mental relapse include craving a substance, thinking about people/places associated with their use in the past, exaggerating the positive aspects of past use and/or minimizing the consequences of past use, lying, bargaining, lying, and planning a relapse. It is important to make him/her aware of the triggers at this point. Counselors help the individual in this stage, to understand and recognize high-risk situations. The addict may physically relapse during a social event such as holidays, wedding functions, or trips, as they may use mental bargaining to justify their behavior/consumption. Being equipped with the skills to deal with occasional carvings or thoughts of using are of paramount importance, as such cravings are a common part of the recovery process, and shouldn’t necessarily lead to a relapse.

Mental Relapse

Physical Relapse:

The third and final stage of relapse occurs when an individual resumes the use of the substance. Many experts believe it is essential to differentiate a “lapse” (an initial use of the substance) from a “relapse” (uncontrolled use of the substance). An initial lapse can lead to a full-fledged relapse for some people. Physical relapses occur most commonly during times when the individual believes that just one-time use will go undetected.

Physical Relapse


Understanding what might trigger the person, and having a list of the relevant high-risk situations with a detailed relapse prevention plan might help in preventing relapse. Here are five triggers which might lead to relapse:


Stress is one of the most common factors leading to relapse. Some people may consume to avoid certain stressful events or as a way to deal with stress. Such people should be equipped with strategies to deal with stress in a healthy manner, instead of engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms, as it might increase the chances of a relapse. Avoiding places, people, and situations that trigger you is a good way to reduce stress. Changes in the overall lifestyle, relationships, and prioritizing your mental health is other great way to deal with stress.

Encountering High-Risk Situations: People and places associated with the previous use may act as potential triggers.

Certain places that remind you of the previous use may trigger you. Family members, friends, and colleagues who used to use with you might also trigger you as it might remind you of the good times you’ve had with them. Having strategies to deal with such triggers might help in reducing the chances of relapse effectively. Having an alternative activity such as going for a walk, going to the gym, tv break, or listening to music might also help in diverting the mind from thinking about the triggers.

Dealing With Negative Or Challenging Emotions:

People dealing with addiction require effective ways to deal with challenging or negative emotions. Substances are used to provide a temporary escape from such negative feelings, and when the substance is not there, it is important to use other ways such as spending time with your family, talking to your friend, journaling, and speaking to a professional. These strategies will help in dealing with negative emotions without engaging in any unhealthy behavior.

Celebrations And Social Events:

Certain events may force you to think about the good old times. Positive situations and celebrations act as a trigger for some people as they feel happy, confident, and in control. They feel they are capable of handling one drink, as they are in control. Having a good friend or family member that you trust can help you to avoid a relapse in such situations.

Relapse Triggers

Dealing With Relapse

Having an understanding that relapse doesn’t mean failure is a vital part of the recovery process. Many individuals tend to see relapse as a failure and may hesitate to seek help after relapsing. Five broad strategies that are used in dealing with relapses are as follows:

Seeking Regular Therapy:

Various forms of therapy are often used to deal with relapses.

Motivational Interviewing is an approach that increases an individual’s readiness to change their self-destructive behavior. Motivational interviewing employs techniques such as discussing about concerns, dealing with triggers, and understanding causes of relapse. This is followed by planning for change by developing a series of steps the individual can use to change.

Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely used forms of treatment for overcoming addiction. This therapy helps individuals overcome the challenges that perpetuate harmful drug/alcohol use or behavior, and equip them with coping skills to deal effectively with such events.


Various forms of drug testing or monitoring such as Urine Drug Screens, Breathalyzers, and Skin monitors can be used to detect alcohol or drug use. Such tests can be done on a regular basis by family members in order to keep a close check on the person involved in the recovery process. Early detection of drugs/alcohol might reduce the risk of relapse. For behavior addictions, a regular check on the addict's phone and laptop activity, or their daily diary can be used for monitoring.

Peer Support:

A variety of peer support groups are available to help and motivate individuals in the recovery process to rely on. Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous, and SMART Recovery emphasize the need for frequent meetings, working through a specified program, and continuous guidance from a mentor to deal with high-risk situations and avoid relapses.

Seeking Social Support:

Take out time to contact your friends and family members who will support you in your goals without being judgmental. Try to have a list of contacts who are close to you and trust you to help you deal with triggers and relapses. You might also want to let your friends know that you are planning to change and your long-term goals.

Prevention of drug relapse

Lastly, Learning to recognize various triggers, getting help from a counselor, and building a support network are all effective ways to deal with relapses. Understanding that several slips and lapses are a part of the recovery process. Continue to seek therapy, social support and implement strategies to deal with negative emotions and challenging situations in order to overcome relapses, instead of looking at relapse as a sign of failure.

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