Drug Relapse: Prevention & Comeback (A Guide)
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Prevention & Comeback

Relapse is a process, not an event.

Relapse starts with important emotional and mental triggers before the actual relapse. The best way to prevent a relapse is for the individual in recovery and their loved ones to understand warning signs and risk factors. Just as you’ve taken time to understand what is addiction, you have to educate yourself on relapse too.

Around 65% of all relapses occur in the first three months and the risk of relapse generally continues to decrease with time.

If relapse does happen, it doesn’t mean failure or starting over. Both the individual and their loved ones can learn lessons to be more effective at prevention in the future.

The rate of relapse for drug addiction (including alcoholism) is actually in line with other diseases that require lifestyle changes — as seen in the chart.

Relapse is a process, not an event.

Preventing a Relapse

Know the Stages

1. Emotional Relapse
Unhealthy emotions and behaviors are building up for a possible relapse in the future.

  • Anxiety
  • Anger or intolerance
  • Defensiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Isolation
  • Not asking for help
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits

2. Mental Relapse
Starting with idly thinking about using, the thoughts grow more and more serious.

  • Glamorizing the past use
  • Lying
  • Hanging out with old using friends
  • Fantasizing about using
  • Planning how to avoid being caught

3. Physical Relapse
The hardest stage to stop, the substances are actively sought after.

  • Going to places where alcohol/drugs will be readily available
  • Driving to the liquor store or to meet a drug dealer
  • Possessing alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia

How Loved Ones Can Help

You can play a critical role in preventing relapse by being a positive source of encouragement and understanding when and why relapses are most likely to occur.

  • Confirm your loved one has a solid relapse prevention plan that includes self-reflection and specific actions to be taken when relapse signs are occurring.
  • Educate yourself on the general signs of relapse and be on alert.
  • Ensure you and everyone surrounding your loved one understand the specific relapse triggers to avoid.
  • Encourage your loved one to handle problems or feelings as they happen to decrease the possibility of stress building to unmanageable levels.
  • Help your loved one keep their life in balance by including small, daily pleasures (i.e. taking a walk, reading a book, starting a new hobby).
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle — including exercising, sleeping and maintaining their diet and hygiene — to physically feel better and improve self-esteem.
  • Prepare for any high-risk situations where your loved one may be tempted to drink alcohol or use drugs (i.e. during holidays, while traveling or after bad news).
  • Stay in tune with your loved one’s feelings and keep the line of communication open.
  • Stay positive, be hopeful and focus on their achievements rather than the past.

4 Specific Behaviors to Watch For

  1. Isolation — Your loved one may begin to withdraw and spend a lot of time alone.
  2. Irritation — Your relationships may become even more strained than usual.
  3. Impulsivity — Recovery requires actively controlling thoughts and behaviors.
  4. Downplaying — They may begin to believe that they have recovered and stop positive behaviors like complying with dual diagnosis medications, attending meetings or journaling.

Coming Back from a Relapse

A relapse should never be ignored, but instead framed as a temporary setback and learning experience.

Although relapse is often part of recovery, encouragement, and support from loved ones are critical to bouncing back. Losing hard-won sobriety leads to feelings of shame, depression, and embarrassment. Instead of making an individual who relapsed feel worse, allow them to open up to you and admit the slip. Help them be honest with themselves and contact their sober support network. If the relapse has already escalated, the best course of action is to return to IOP or inpatient treatment.

If you feel there’s a chance your loved one will or has relapsed, don’t wait to take action. The Wellness team is available to the public 24/7 to offer personal guidance on how to approach your loved one and the best course of action for the specific situation. Call (888) 492-0489 for this support.

Hope After Relapse Rehab Reviews Highest Rated
7.5K+ Clients Helped
Ambrosia Treatment Center
4.5 7500
Ambrosia Treatment Center
Nervis F.
Treatment Center

I tried everything to get off of heroin. I went to over twenty halfway houses, and I had ten different sponsors. No matter what I did, I always ended back using drugs. Everytime I quit, I couldn't handle the cravings.

When I was introduced to Naltrexone, my entire recovery process changed. It didn’t take the cravings down to zero, but it brought the noise down. It helped me develop a strong foundation. I finally got sober and stayed sober for longer than five days.

It also gave my mom peace of mind knowing I couldn’t get high.

March 12
5 5
Ambrosia Treatment Center
4.5 7500
Ambrosia Treatment Center
Kristofer P <small>Father</small>
Treatment Center
Relapse is so common in my sons life that I had little hope for this time. I never understood what made him use as soon as things seem to be getting better. He was helpless, and I was hopeless. When I was told and finally believed that I couldn't keep him sober and that he couldn't drink 'normally', I changed. My son currently has the longest amount of time sober. I can confidently say I am as proud of him as he is of himself.
April 16
5 5
Ambrosia Treatment Center
4.5 7500
Ambrosia Treatment Center
Rachel L.
Treatment Center
I had been around the rehab block for quite a few years. I was expecting to enter, stay for a few weeks, and leave with the intentions of getting high again. It was something I was so used to. But before I had time to think about another relapse, I was told that I emotionally and mentally relapse before I actually physically relapse. It is more than just the drug; it's about my thought process. I've learned how to not self-sabotage myself into using. I'm actually happy today with close to five months sober.
April 22
5 5
Ambrosia Treatment Center
4.5 7500
Ambrosia Treatment Center
Joyce E <small>Mom</small>
Treatment Center
There were multiple times when my daughter would tell me that she didn't know why she started using again. Finally, this last time in treatment, they helped my daughter and I understand the root issues that kept her in the cycle of relapse. She finally understands the nature of her condition and now she believes in her program of recovery. It is different this time and I know she will be able to handle whatever life throws at her.
June 2
5 5

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