The recovery journey is full of ups and downs. If you’ve relapsed, you may be worried about what the future holds. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for a sober life. There’s always hope for recovery—as long as you remain committed to getting the addiction treatment you need.
A Slip Is Not a Relapse
Many people use the terms slip and relapse interchangeably, but these terms actually refer to two entirely different situations. Someone experiencing a slip quickly realizes the error of their ways and takes steps to get back on track. In comparison, someone experiencing a relapse has abandoned their recovery efforts entirely.
The Three Stages of Relapse
Many addiction treatment professionals believe that relapse happens in three stages.
- Stage 1: Emotional Relapse. An unpleasant situation in your life creates stress, anxiety, or anger. You don’t turn to drugs or alcohol, but you go back to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as bottling up your feelings or isolating yourself from your support system.
- Stage 2: Mental Relapse. You’ve gone back to thinking about how drugs or alcohol would take away your pain. You’re glamorizing your past use, trying to rationalize your actions, and thinking about how you’d be able to get drunk or high without anyone knowing.
- Stage 3: Physical Relapse. You’ve decided that you’re no longer interested in recovery and have gone back to drinking or using drugs.
The Next Steps
After a relapse, what happens next? Here are our tips for helping you move forward:
- Forgive yourself. Addiction is characterized by feelings of guilt and shame, but there’s no reason to punish yourself after you’ve experienced a relapse. Substance use disorders are considered chronic illnesses, which means that relapse is a normal part of the cycle. Make it your goal to strive for progress, not perfection.
- Take responsibility. Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean avoiding personal responsibility. Although relapse is often a part of the recovery journey, you are responsible for your choices. Resist the temptation to blame your relapse on stress at work, a fight with your spouse, or some other external factor. Falling into the trap of seeing yourself as a victim is not productive.
- Seek support. Since addiction isn’t caused by a lack of willpower, you can’t simply will yourself to get back on track with your recovery. You need access to evidence-based care from qualified addiction treatment professionals. At Waypoint Recovery Center’s South Carolina drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, we offer care to men and women at all stages of the recovery process—including those who have recently experienced a relapse.
- Identify what went wrong. Self-reflection is a vital part of moving forward after relapse. Think about your actions in the weeks leading up to relapse and see if you can pinpoint things you should have handled differently. Were you getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, and exercising regularly? When you started to struggle, did you brush the concerns of others aside? If you’ve been writing in your journal regularly, past entries can be useful in developing a better understanding of how your relapse occurred.
- Address your underlying fears. Making any major life change is scary, and there’s no bigger change than being in recovery. However, you can’t let fear hold you back from working to build the best possible life for yourself. Fears of being judged, of not measuring up, or of disappointing loved ones should be discussed with your treatment team.
- Investigate alternative treatment options. No two people are exactly alike, which means it can take some trial and error to find a treatment option that works for you. If a 12-Step group doesn’t provide the support you need, SMART Recovery’s secular approach may work better. If you have trouble expressing yourself in group or individual therapy, expressive arts therapy might be a better way to process the trauma that contributed to the development of your substance use disorder. Discuss your options with your treatment team, and work together to come up with a new plan.
- Reevaluate treatment for co-occurring disorders. If you’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder, PTSD, depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, it is vital that you take steps to address your dual diagnosis. Often, people with a co-occurring disorder first turned to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of their mental health condition. If your mental health issues aren’t being properly addressed, it’s going to be impossible to be successful with your recovery efforts.
Your Story Isn’t Over Yet
Your relapse may be disappointing, but it doesn’t define you. While you can’t change what’s already happened, you have the power to decide what the next chapter in your story is going to look like.