Addiction Relapse: Getting Back on Track in Recovery

Teenage Girl with an Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping

It is estimated that 2.15 million Americans, which is almost 9 percent of the nation’s population, have a substance use disorder (SUD). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the rates of relapse run extremely high among people in recovery, ranging from 37 to 56 percent. [1]

What is Relapse?

Detailed studies have been conducted on the concept of relapse involving both human and animal models of substance abuse. Clinical studies show that individuals with a substance use disorder are exceedingly prone to environmental cues and stimuli than non-using people, that can potentially elicit a relapse.

Relapse is essentially defined as the restarting of alcohol or drug intake after an extended period of abstinence. Clinically, vulnerability to relapse is more commonly linked to an intense craving or desire to use.

Yet, in the face of the high rate of reversion in substance abuse, relapse has posed rampant and substantial obstruction in the treatment efforts to curb substance abuse.

Consequently, research efforts have been directed toward influencing relapse behavior, alongside unraveling the underlying neural elements and environmental factors that are associated with or encourage substance abuse. [2]

Relapsing could occur due to exposure to small amounts of drugs or alcohol, encountering substance-related cues or environmental factors and stress or withdrawal-related anxiety.

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Refocusing on Sobriety

Despite this setback, it is important to accept it and get past it. Following are a few measures that you can consider in moving ahead with your recovery.

Failure is Not the Focus

Equate relapse with failure is highly counterproductive as such thought process can suck away motivation and self-confidence. A relapse should not cost you recovery.

Man standing on a bridge

Forgive yourself for human flailing and refocus your efforts on recovery. Accepting that relapse is nothing but a slight hitch in the journey ahead may help you return to recovery with a renewed vigor.

The relapse rate for patients finishing an addiction treatment program is similar to that of patients who sought prior medical care for conditions such as Type 1 diabetes.

However, when a patient in recovery from substance abuse relapses back into old destructive patterns, it is considered a choice rather than a medical concern. Breaking free from this mentality may make it easier for people to work through a relapse event and return to treatment.

Enlist Your Support System

After the occurrence of a relapse, you will need your social support system to lean on more than ever. It is vital to reach out to your support group, your sponsor, family, friends or any other trusted parties.

Most likely someone else from your group has experienced a relapse in the past and could provide you with helpful resources to deal with yours. The level and quality of support can make a huge impact on the success of your recovery post relapse. Building a strong network of support is vital to maintaining long-term sobriety. [3]

Aftercare Programs

Research demonstrates that patients enlisting addiction treatment aftercare services significantly decrease their chances of relapse. Yet, only about half the patients utilize the aftercare services and even a smaller percentage of this population fully complete their aftercare programs.

Relapse is now considered the rule rather than the exception in the scope of addiction treatment. Instead of being viewed as a moral weakness and the last shot at getting sober, relapse has emerged as an opportunity to learning even better strategies for maintaining sobriety and identifying the relevant triggers.

Re-evaluate Your Strategy

A closer examination of your relapse may yield some useful information regarding your strengths and weaknesses that could be put to use later in order to maintain a long term sobriety.

Here are three steps to consider:

  1. Evaluate the circumstances surrounding your relapse. This could render useful knowledge of what potential trigger points could be that you will need to avoid and be wary of in future.
  2. List the details of your triggers. These include particular activities, visuals, sounds, or people, places or things that escalated your chances of relapse. It is important to understand if your relapse was an emotional decision or a conditioned occurrence.
  3. Take a detailed look at what helped you prevent relapses until now. List what’s worked before so you can see how to incorporate more of these strategies into your life now.[4]

Man standing on a bridgeRecovery is a lifelong healing process, and relapse indicates the importance to re-evaluate and modify your strategy. Accept that you did slip and redouble your efforts to overcome your cravings and urges and better understand and control your triggers.

What’s most important is your desire to move past your relapse and forward with your recovery to live the life you deserve.

Sana Ahmed photoAbout the Author:

A journalist and social media savvy content writer with wide research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana Ahmed has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute focusing on mental health and addiction recovery, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. The art of using words to educate, stir emotions, create change and provoke action is at the core of her career, as she strives to develop content and deliver news that matters.



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on August 31, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 31, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.