10 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Relapse is a possibility for anyone in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, regardless of how long it has been since they last used a drug. Addiction is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a disorder characterized by compulsive drug use, often despite harmful consequences, that results in long-term brain changes.

Addiction is both a relapsing and chronic disease. This implies that other diseases such as asthma and hypertension have no cure. Relapse is a common occurrence in all chronic diseases, including addiction. Relapse rates for substance use disorders have been estimated to be between 40 and 60 percent in studies.

If you’ve been in recovery for a while and relapsed, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t invalidate your prior efforts to remain drug-free, nor does it imply that any rehab program you participated in was ineffective. However, that does not mean you should use this as an excuse to justify abusing drugs.

Even though there is no remedy for addiction, you can take steps to avoid relapse. To combat addiction’s destructive effects on your brain, you must be assertive and persistent. You have a lot of resources at your disposal to help you with your long-term recovery. These suggestions can help you stay clean and sober by providing you with new ideas to integrate into your recovery.

It is not unusual for people who are recovering from addictions to relapse at least once. Some people even go off the wagon multiple times before finally becoming sober. In reality, even with FDA-approved treatments for alcohol, nicotine, and opiate addiction, more than two-thirds of those who begin treatment will relapse. 

The first step toward prevention is to know what can cause you to relapse, as well as to have a plan in place to deal with these triggers. Here are 5 triggers to think about and discuss with your counselor or therapist.


The most common cause of relapse is stress. Most people who battle with addiction use their chosen drug or activity as a dysfunctional coping mechanism. In reality, research shows that under stressful conditions, people have an increased “desire” for alcohol, drug, or addictive activity—especially if the drug or any other addictive practice was the user’s major coping mechanism.

Analyzing the stress you are under is one method to be prepared for this trigger. You can’t get rid of everyone and everything in your life, but you can limit situations that bring you a lot of stress. In a conclusion, making a list of all the people, things, and places that stress you out may be beneficial.

Are you, for example, in a destructive relationship or dealing with a financial state that is causing you stress?

You may be able to lessen the volume of stressful conditions in your life by making adjustments to your lifestyle, priorities, and relationships. And by doing so, you’ll be less likely to experience a relapse as a result of stress. It is also critical to learn effective stress management techniques.

You may be able to manage or reduce your stress by doing the following:

  • Engaging in relaxation training and practicing mindfulness
  • Effective time management is necessary to prevent working in total panic.
  • Combining moderate exercise with good eating to promote healthy behaviors

Reducing the chances of relapse due to stress requires not just finding healthy methods to cope with stress, but also being able to identify when you are in a tense situation and taking action to relieve it.

A counselor or therapist can teach you how to listen to your body and mind to recognize when you are stressed and develop sustainable coping mechanisms.

Individuals or Places Associated with your Addictive Behavior

Whether or not they are currently smoking, drinking, or taking drugs, people who took part in your compulsive behavior are possible relapse triggers. Similarly, some places that alert you of your addiction can be triggering. Even members of the family might be a trigger, particularly if they make you feel fragile and immature.

It is critical to have appropriate coping mechanisms in place when you are reminded of your addiction. If you are an alcoholic and a bunch of friends invites you out, or you observe coworkers going to happy hour, having a specific reaction prepared may be beneficial.

It may also be beneficial to have a healthy thing to do instead, such as going for a run, watching a movie, dining with a mentor, or reading a nice book.

You are more likely to relapse if you do not plan for these scenarios ahead of time. To put together a plan, brainstorm ideas, or collaborate with your therapist or counselor.

Challenging or Negative Emotions

Addicts require effective methods for enduring, modulating, and making sense of the bad emotions they experience on a regular basis. You can no longer rely on drugs, alcohol, or compulsive habits to bring brief comfort from those feelings. Make it a goal to learn how to cope with unpleasant feelings and emotions.

Recognize that the bad emotions you’re experiencing aren’t necessarily a warning of impending failure. Everyone experiences negative or difficult feelings. It’s all about how you handle them.

Consider these feelings as opportunities for learning and progress. By taking note of your feelings and inquiring as to why you might discover a great deal about yourself. In fact, learning to confront your thoughts without succumbing to addiction is quite beneficial.

When you’re feeling down, consider meditating, journaling, or even praying. Find a healthy technique to relieve stress and improve your mood. Additional coping methods can be developed with the assistance of mental health practitioner or an addictions specialist.

Sensing or Seeing Your Source Of Addiction

During recovery, reminders or memories of your addiction can lead to relapse. In the initial stages of quitting, the smell of watching others sip cocktails in a club or restaurant, cigarette smoke, or seeing a couple wrapped in a passionate embrace seems to be omnipresent.

It’s natural to want to relapse into your addiction. After all, it is a place you’re used to. But recovery isn’t only about “giving up” or “abstaining,” it is also about creating a new life where it is easier—and more beneficial.

Concentrate on the new life you’re creating and the changes you’re bringing about. Consider the negative effects you experienced as a result of your addiction, such as the people you harmed and the connections you lost. When you see these reminders, you may think you miss your previous life, but in truth, it only brought you misery and hardship.

Accept the fact that you’re developing a new, stronger version of yourself with no space for the stuff you didn’t want in the first place.

When you’re feeling provoked, having a substitute habit, like going to a yoga class or taking a lengthy bath, can be beneficial. Reciting happy mantras or practicing relaxation exercises6might also help you resist these temptations. Work with your therapist or counselor for more ideas on how to properly deal with these reminders.

Celebration Times Or Moments of Joy

Major positive events, like holidays and birthdays, can also serve as triggers. You may feel content, in control, and certain that one drink, one cigarette, or one little flirtation with the gorgeous stranger will not ruin your day. Can you, however, keep it under control?

Addicts frequently lose their ability to recognize when it is time to stop. As a result, that single drink could become a binge. Alternatively, buying one unneeded nice pair of boots could progress to a shopping binge.

When you’re on the verge of relapsing, having a buddy can assist. If you start to relapse, find somebody you respect and trust to gently but forcefully encourage you to quit what you’re doing.

Avoid going into places where you’re at a high danger of relapsing on your own. Once the party starts, you’ll be amazed how fast your relapse and noble intentions vanish.

Make a strategy with your therapist or counselor on how to deal with the distractions that come with fun activities like weddings, parties, holidays, and other celebrations. You are more likely to relapse if you go into the scenario unprepared.

1. Begin with a thorough addiction recovery program to lay the foundation.

Stopping the cycle of drug abuse on your own is difficult. If you have had trouble quitting on your own, you’re not alone. When it comes to getting clean, addiction rehab programs are a perfect place to start. It puts you in a situation where you can spend all of your energy on creating the foundation for long-term recovery and preventing relapse.

Based on your needs, there are a variety of addiction treatment programs to choose from. There is a plan for you, ranging from detox through inpatient centers to outpatient programs. Group and individual therapy, educational programs, and experiential therapy methods combine to help you learn to live a drug-free life.

2. Follow your treatment program properly.

Following your therapy program, the entire time may seem apparent to some, but it is a vital aspect of relapse prevention. People who refuse to follow medical advice and stop treatment early jeopardize their recovery. Even if you don’t love certain aspects of addiction therapy, there will be plenty to learn and take away from it.

The level of work you put into therapy determines how quickly you heal. You aren’t getting yourself the ideal chance to stay sober if you merely put in a modest amount of work or quit your program early. Take full advantage of any chance to attend treatment and make the most of every program that is available to you.

3. Create an aftercare strategy and stick to it.

You will sit with your case manager or counselor near the end of your therapy to create an aftercare plan. Aftercare relates to the assistance plan you will follow once you’ve completed your treatment and left the facility. One of the most effective strategies to avoid relapse is to stick to your prescribed program.

A large percentage of aftercare regimens include counseling for drug and alcohol abuse or an outpatient program. Some examples include attending 12-step meetings or residing in a sober living facility. The specifics of your aftercare plan will be determined by the criteria and services offered at your facility.

4. Create a network of support with whom you can stay in touch following treatment.

Trying to stay drug-free and avoid relapse on your own is a challenging task. When you don’t have a support network to keep you accountable, it’s easier to go back to drugs. It is important to have a support network to whom you can turn when you are feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the constraints of drug-free living.

Group therapy may be part of your recovery plan, which is a terrific place to start. Make a list of a few folks from your group with whom you’d like to spend time while you’re not in treatment. When you are having a hard time outside of group hours, exchange contact information and seek out one another.

5. Find a therapist who will work with you on a one-on-one basis.

You may choose to contact a therapist on your own if your recovery plan does not involve ongoing counseling. Maintaining regular touch with a therapist or counselor who knows the additional challenges of living in recovery is beneficial.

Therapy provides a safe environment in which you can work through current concerns as well as issues from your past that you didn’t have time to address in treatment. It will be a terrific method to prevent recurrence if you can continue seeing a therapist following therapy.

6. Participate in 12-step programs or other forms of recovery assistance.

You can meet with folks who understand your challenges at 12-step groups or other recovery support organizations. There are support groups for almost any problem, from alcohol and drugs to overeating and gambling. Because some people oppose the 12-step strategy to recovery, organizations such as Refuge Recovery or SMART Recovery may be beneficial in preventing recurrence.

7. Take up some new interests or rekindle old ones.

It is only after you’ve been clean for a while that you appreciate how time-consuming it is to sustain drug addiction. You spend the majority of your time either under the effect of drugs or trying to come up with the money to acquire more drugs. When you take narcotics out of the equation, you have a lot more free time.

Idle time isn’t the best thing to do in the early stages of recovery. If you really want to avoid relapsing, use your free time to try new activities or rediscover ones that were taken away by addiction. Attend a slow pitch softball team, try a new cuisine in the kitchen, or go to a show with some sober friends. There are numerous ways to pass the time that do not involve using drugs.

8. Get up and move around.

During the initial several weeks and months of recuperation, anxiety and depression are frequent problems. It takes time to acclimatize to your new life without the use of narcotics to mask your feelings. Exercising helps your brain release endorphins, which enhance your energy and control your mood. There certainly will be some sort of physical activity to get your legs moving that you will enjoy, whether it’s jogging, walking, yoga, riding, lifting weights, swimming, or something else.

9. Keep track of your thoughts in a diary.

Journaling is a fantastic multipurpose tool for avoiding relapse. Use your notebook to keep track of your moods, items that entice you to use, and enjoyable ways to spend your time. Journaling is an excellent opportunity to reflect on your past, evaluate your aspirations, and devise a strategy for following your dreams in recovery.

10. Don’t be hesitant to seek assistance.

It is not always easy to ask for help, but if you want to avoid relapse, you must learn how to do so. This may include consulting your therapist or case manager, as well as your recovery support network or another set of acquaintances. Perhaps you could try a 12-step program or a self-help recovery program.

It may be challenging at first, but with experience, it becomes easier. You don’t have to do it alone when it comes to living a drug-free life. The more you extend out to others and ask for support along the journey, the more likely you are to stay in recovery for the long haul.


The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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