Substance Use

Drug Addiction Relapse: Now What?

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Experiencing a relapse in drug addiction is a complex challenge that individuals often encounter on their recovery journey. Various factors, including stress, triggers, and underlying emotional issues, can contribute to relapse.

It’s essential to recognize that relapse does not signify failure but rather highlights areas that need further attention and support.

We’ll explore the common causes, coping strategies, and the importance of seeking professional assistance and a supportive community to navigate the complexities of relapse and resume the path toward lasting recovery.

Understanding the triggers, learning effective coping mechanisms, and fostering a resilient mindset are integral aspects of overcoming relapse and reinforcing one’s commitment to a healthier and drug-free life.

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What is Relapse?

Relapse, in the context of drug addiction, refers to the recurrence of substance use after a period of abstinence or successful recovery. (1) It is a common and challenging aspect of the recovery journey, marked by a return to addictive behaviors or substance abuse.

Relapse can be triggered by various factors, including:

  • Stress
  • Social pressures
  • Environmental cues
  • Underlying emotional issues (2)

Understanding relapse as a potential part of the recovery process emphasizes the importance of ongoing support, coping strategies, and a holistic approach to addressing the complexities of addiction.

Acknowledging relapse not as a failure but as an opportunity for growth and learning can empower individuals to seek help, reassess their recovery plan, and resume their commitment to a healthier, substance-free life.

Types & Stages of Relapse

Understanding the types and stages of relapse is a fundamental aspect of successfully overcoming the challenge of addiction recovery. It involves not only recognizing warning signs but also implementing effective preventive strategies to safeguard against a return to addictive behaviors. (3)

Emotional Relapse

This initial stage manifests through signs like bottled-up emotions, isolation, poor self-care, and mood swings. Emotional relapse occurs when individuals inadvertently neglect their emotional well-being, unwittingly setting the stage for increased vulnerability to substance use. (3)

It is important to recognize and address these emotional warning signs or mental health conditions early on to prevent progression to further stages.

Mental Relapse

The signs of mental relapse include:

  • Fantasizing about using drugs
  • Minimizing consequences
  • Rationalizing drug use

It marks a psychological tug-of-war where individuals grapple with conflicting thoughts about substance use, heightening the risk of returning to addictive behaviors. Intervening at this stage involves addressing these conflicting thoughts and reinforcing positive coping mechanisms. (3)

Physical Relapse

This is the conclusive stage where the signs involve actively engaging in substance use. Physical relapse occurs when an individual succumbs to the temptation, resulting in actual substance use.

Preventing physical relapse requires robust support systems, coping strategies, and an acute awareness of triggers that may lead to a return to drug use. (3)

Trigger Situations

Identifying and avoiding trigger situations is a critical preventive measure. These triggers, often unique to each individual, significantly increase the risk of relapse.

Recognizing and proactively managing these triggers involves developing coping strategies and building resilience against the factors that may prompt a return to addictive behaviors. (4)

High-Risk Situations

Environments or circumstances that historically led to substance use pose a higher risk of relapse. Navigating these high-risk situations requires heightened awareness, strategic planning, and the development of coping mechanisms to resist the allure of past habits.

Lapse vs. Relapse

It’s essential to distinguish between a lapse, a brief and isolated return to substance use often considered a warning sign, and a relapse, a more sustained return to addictive behaviors. Recognizing a lapse early provides an opportunity for intervention before it escalates into a full relapse, highlighting the importance of ongoing self-monitoring. (2) (5)

Common Causes of Drug Relapse

It is essential to understand the various roots of a relapse since it can help you understand why it has occurred, to begin with. There are many potential causes of relapse, which will be discussed below.

People take drugs because of different reasons. A person might think about how difficult life is without drugs and then start using them again.

This does not mean that they do not deserve the good things in life. There may be specific triggers associated with alcohol use disorder. If you do not identify and deal with these triggers, they can cause problems if you encounter them while in recovery. (6)

For example, if you used cocaine at parties and the people you were with led to emotional relapse, this needs to be addressed.

You can avoid these high-risk situations or limit contact with the specific people involved to prevent a full-blown relapse from occurring. Still, it’s also possible that working on your self-esteem and independence could help.

Boredom and lack of activities in life can be significant causes of drug relapse. If you are not actively involved with things that give your life meaning, then there may be the temptation to escape or cope through drugs once again. (6)

Negative emotions such as depression or hopelessness may increase the risk of relapse and drive you to drug abuse. This is because drugs are often used as coping mechanisms at first. (6)

The person may try to deal with complicated feelings by using drugs or alcohol rather than face their problems head-on.

This means that if there’s no way for you to cope or deal with these emotions without using drugs, then you may be more likely to use them again.

It’s often a good idea for those in recovery to find healthy and productive coping strategies to deal with difficult emotions, as this can help prevent relapse from occurring down the line.

Next Steps After a Relapse

Here are the steps you should take if you have recently relapsed on drugs or alcohol.

1. Acceptance

Acknowledge that this relapse does not define you as a person, so there is no need to give up on yourself. Remember, if you have just relapsed, it is likely, that someone else has too.

The recovery process is never easy but don’t be too hard on yourself and know that you’ll get back on track again with some self-care and addiction coping skills.

2. Speak Up

If you are in the emergency room or hospital because of your addiction, tell your doctor about your current drug use and cravings so they can provide appropriate treatment options.

If you have legal charges, call the court and ask about getting rehab instead of incarceration or jail time so you can receive help for both your addiction and underlying mental illness(es).

3. Therapy

Seek therapy with an addiction specialist who specializes in treating co-occurring mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. (7)

Attend 12-step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

If you are not already seeing a therapist, consider talking to one about your mental health issues since they will probably play a role in helping you get back on track.

4. Get Professional Help

If you want to stop using drugs for good, it’s time to take your recovery seriously and seek the help of a professional so they can guide you through this relapse in a healthy way.

If your addiction is severe, find a treatment center that offers inpatient or outpatient medical supervision throughout the withdrawal process, so you don’t have to go through it alone.

5. Do Not Isolate Yourself

It might be challenging at first but try not to isolate yourself when you’re feeling this way. Reach out to those who can help you through these tough times.

Always remember that there’s no shame in asking for help.

No one recovers from addiction on their own, and there is nothing to be ashamed of when you relapse.

6. Act Quickly

As a disclaimer, seek help now rather than waiting until things get worse. If this was your last straw, it means that the time for change has come, so take action before it’s too late and ask for help in getting better.

Remember that relapsing doesn’t mean that recovery is over and there is no hope for living a sober life.

You can always get back up again and start fresh, so don’t lose sight of the person you are becoming now.

7. Stay Positive

If you have just relapsed after all this time in recovery, try not to stress too much about it.

Physical relapse or mental relapse isn’t uncommon, but the most important thing is not to give up on yourself or your recovery. If you relapse, don’t be too hard on yourself and consider it part of your journey to recovery.

With some hard work and dedication, it may be possible to prevent a full-blown return to active addiction by identifying potential triggers and initial signs of relapse before they become too much of an issue.

Recent statistics from SAMHSA demonstrate that many people who experience a relapse remain clean and sober for good. This should be viewed as an encouraging sign. (8)

The Importance of Relapse Prevention Plans

Developing and adhering to a personalized relapse prevention plan is paramount. This plan involves identifying triggers, implementing effective coping strategies, and having a structured response to potential relapse situations. 

A well-crafted prevention plan serves as a proactive defense mechanism against the various challenges of addiction recovery.

Learning from Relapse

Viewing relapse as an opportunity for learning and growth, rather than a failure, empowers individuals to reassess their recovery strategies and make necessary adjustments. This perspective encourages a focus on continuous improvement and resilience-building throughout the recovery journey. (2)

Knowing these types and stages provides individuals with the knowledge to recognize warning signs early, seek support, and actively engage in relapse prevention strategies. It emphasizes the dynamic and evolving nature of the recovery process, highlighting the importance of ongoing efforts to maintain a healthy, substance-free lifestyle. (2)

Addiction Relapse Prevalence

Recent studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that: addiction treatment (9)

  • The overall relapse rate of substance use disorder among people who have experienced a relapse is lower than previously thought. (9)
  • People in recovery from addiction improve and maintain their health better over time than those with addiction who don’t seek treatment facilities. (9)
  • Most people in recovery from substance use disorders live long, meaningful lives and do not experience another episode of the condition after a relapse. (9)

Most people who have been addicted relapse because they did not seek professional help right away or do enough research on their own to remain successfully clean.

It is advisable to find a good program that will teach you the skills and coping mechanisms needed to stay sober for life.

Reasons People Abuse Drugs

It is crucial to understand why people abuse and become addicted to drugs. This will help eliminate and lower the chances of a relapse occurring at all.

Most studies indicate that the reasons why people take drugs are different, but they share many similarities. (10)

Here is a list of some significant causes of drug abuse:

  • Escape from emotional pain
  • Peer pressure
  • Family history
  • Loneliness
  • Family history and genetics
  • Recreational experimentation
  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Pain from physical injury

It may not be easy to anticipate or prevent these causes in the future, but it is important to monitor one’s behavior and thoughts.

For example, if you feel lonely because your friends have started spending time with other people, meeting new people could remedy this problem without using drugs as a crutch anymore.

Offering Addiction Support to a Friend or Loved One

When we understand why people become addicted to drugs, it is easier to find solutions and prevent drug abuse. People need psychological help and social support from their family members or friends when they recover from addiction.

We can offer them our support so that they don’t feel alone. There are some support groups that help drug addicts. If you know somebody who has a drug abuse problem, you should not ignore it.

It can be constructive if members of the family or friends try to understand what the person is going through and offer their support by accompanying them during these challenging times. You need to encourage your loved ones every day to quit drug use.

Drug abuse is a serious problem that can destroy people’s lives if they do not receive the correct treatment or therapies in time, with proper healthcare treatment and a strong support network.

How to Prevent Another Drug Relapse

Once your treatment plan is over, continue with the cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling sessions so that you can ensure sobriety stays intact through any future potential relapses. In addition, this will provide you with the structure and support that you may need for relapse prevention. (11) (12)

Stay active by taking up a new hobby or interest, join your local support system center, where they offer various activities, including yoga, sports leagues, or other exercise groups.

Being around people who are not using drugs will make it easier for you to resist any temptations of relapse in early recovery. Addiction recovery plan is a lifelong journey, and every person’s path to long-term sobriety will be different.

Remember, for recovery after a mental relapse, the most important thing is getting back up and continuing with the recovery journey. You may need more time in rehab than you initially thought it would take for your treatment program to work, but with determination and courage, you will succeed and become sober again.

Recovery is a lifelong journey, not a quick fix. If you have just relapsed, it’s time to seek professional help from a rehab center or addiction specialist as soon as possible. The faster you act, the better the chances of getting your life together. Contact Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 today for more info on how we can help you or your loved one beat addiction and get their life back on track.


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Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us