What to Do After a Relapse

Getting through rehab and going on to your recovery journey and daily schedule is a huge accomplishment. You’ve been clean for months, maybe even years, when you find yourself in a downhill spiral. Perhaps you lost your job, got in a fight with your spouse, or just had a bad day. You tell yourself that one drink or one hit won’t hurt. However, you soon find yourself in a full relapse in your recovery. Where do you go? What do you do? Is your recovery over? Should you just keep using? Relapse does not have to end your life in recovery but can build you up stronger for the next chapter. 

What Does it Mean to Relapse?

Relapse is defined differently by numerous treatment centers and a variety of people. The most basic definition is when someone clean and sober uses drugs or alcohol again and goes into a spiral that negatively affects their life and derails their recovery. Relapse can mean having one drink or multiple, one hit of a drug, or multiple, whatever classifies a person getting off-track in their recovery. 

There are two different types of relapse to be considered, known as “traditional” relapse and “freelapse.” Traditional relapse occurs when an individual knowingly uses drugs or alcohol. Freelapse refers to when someone accidentally uses drugs or alcohol, doing so unintentionally. Freelapse can sound confusing, but it can happen if someone accidentally drinks alcohol at a party or in other, unsure situations. Often these relapses don’t come out of the blue but rather have warning signs leading up to the actual physical use of substances. Knowing these warning signs can help you avoid relapse in the future. 

What to Do Right After it Happens

Seeking out help immediately after you relapse is what can get you back on track to healing and sobriety. You can recover from any relapse that occurs, no matter how far down you think you’ve sunk. Here are some things you can do to help you right after your relapse:

Seek Out Help

The first thing you should do right after you relapse is to seek help. Help can come from your sober friends, your lifelong friends, or from family members. No matter who it is, it should be someone that positively supports your recovery and will help you get back on track as soon as possible. 

Seek Out Treatment

If needed, call a treatment center that you know will help you get back on track and support you in a way that is conducive to your recovery. This could be the facility you went to when you first got clean or a different one, as long as you know it is a healthy environment that will have you sober and back to a healthy life.

Go to a Support Group

A lack of support may be the cause of relapse for some people. Lack of support often stems from isolating oneself from others as they progress further down the path to relapse. Going to a support group, such as 12-step programs, can provide you with a safe space to talk about what you are going through. The people attending these meetings will empathize with you and give you sound advice that has worked for them in their recovery. Most of all, they’ll be able to provide you with the support that you desperately need during this time.

Warning Signs and Triggers

Educating yourself on the warning signs and triggers of relapse is a great way to help prevent it in the future. Reflect on the past couple of months and what occurred that may have played a role in your relapse—making a list of what went wrong, as well as common relapse signs and triggers, can help you avoid them and keep track of them in the future to prevent another relapse.

Common Warning Signs
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Isolation
  • Badmouthing recovery
  • Believing that one can have one drink or one hit without relapse
  • Avoiding once-beloved activities and hobbies
  • Hanging around with individuals one used to use with
Common Triggers
  • Stress
  • Over-confidence in recovery
  • Relationships
  • Mental or physical illness
  • Work-life
  • Environments where drugs or alcohol are available
  • Social isolation
  • HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired)

There is Hope

Although relapse can seem like the end of the world at times, you should always keep in mind that there is hope to recover and get clean again. Relapsing does not mean you are a lost cause or unable to maintain recovery, but rather that your coping mechanisms and relapse prevention strategies need to be altered. No matter what, never lose hope that there is a brighter tomorrow and a chance for you to enjoy a drug and alcohol-free life.


Relapse is often scary and can leave you feeling ashamed, guilty, and perhaps even embarrassed. While it should not be said that relapse is a normal part of recovery, it is common, and many that do relapse get the help they need and go on living a happy, healthy, sober life. At Northstar Transitions, we understand that recovery can be difficult. We also understand that relapse can leave you feeling hopeless. We are here to help you get back on track by disrupting the behavior patterns that led to your relapse. Together we can examine what led to your relapse and help you develop ways to prevent it in the future. No matter how you are feeling now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that will bring you the happiness you deserve. You just have to put in the work. Call us today at (303) 558-6400 for help with relapse and relapse prevention.


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