Actions after a relapse



8- Actions After a Relapse


So you relapsed. What is your choice to be? You can view it as a learning experience and grow from it or you can view it as a failure and continue using drugs. Many of us forget that we have a choice after a relapse. In this page you will find suggestions for what to do after a relapse to get yourself back on the recovery path.


1. Act immediately

2. Take responsibility

3. Use Fellowship support

4. Take recovery actions

5. Manage side effects

6. Seek professional help

7. Learn from the experience


One of the greatest tragedies for those of us who have relapsed is to take the attitude that we are failures and use this as an excuse to continue using drugs. We forget that even after a relapse we have a choice. Just because we have started using drugs again does not mean we are doomed to continue. We have to say to ourselves, ‘OK, so I have used drugs again’, and then remind ourselves that setbacks happen. A relapse does not spell the end of our life in recovery. We’re drug addicts, so it should not be surprising – or an occasion for despair – if we have picked up again after some time in recovery. For us, doing drugs is the most natural thing in the world. So we have resorted to our old ways of dealing with life. The question now is: does this mean we have to continue down the destructive path?

As the saying goes in the Fellowship, “relapse is not important but what you do after it is.” The point is that one slip is not the end of our recovery. In fact it may be the very thing we needed to learn about our disease and how we are working our program. Though no one would advise anyone to go have a relapse, the truth is many of us grow stronger and more knowledgeable in our recovery after the painful lessons using drugs again taught us. Our relapse may drive us back to recovery with increased vigor and determination, which lead us to grow and have a better and more fulfilling life in recovery. But if after a relapse we allow our disease to further sabotage us by continuing to use drugs, we are setting ourselves up for horrendous consequences. Back in the grip of our addiction we face the same painful risks that drove us to recovery in the first place, namely: overdose, accidents, medical, legal, and marital problems to name a few of the things that can happen. Then there is the final risk we run when doing drugs —  the loss of our life.

Below are suggestions to help you take a healthy attitude towards your relapse and constructive actions so that you can restart your recovery and turn the experience into an asset for a better life in recovery.


Constructive actions after a relapse - addiction relapse



1- Act immediately

  • Once you have had a relapse, it is imperative that you act immediately to take the right actions to get back on the recovery path. Don’t take the attitude, “oh I have had a relapse, so I might as well make it a good one and use some more.” This is your disease trying to sabotage you, to get you to suffer more. Nor is it helpful to say to yourself, “Oh, this is it. I’ve messed up and am now doomed. There’s nothing I can do about it.” This kind of self-defeating attitude only gives more power to your disease. In fact all such negative thinking as blaming yourself, reprimanding yourself, self-pity, seeing yourself as weak, a failure or bad are fundamentally rooted in your lack of understanding that you are suffering from disease and that you have temporarily reverted to your old and familiar ways of living life. But if you take a realistic attitude towards your disease and view relapse as a common and even natural occurrence, then you can act immediately and use recovery tools to get back to recovery.
  • Two recovery actions you can take right away after a relapse are to phone or meet with your sponsor, and to go to a meeting and say you have had a relapse. Such healthy, positive steps will lessen the hold your disease has taken over you. Doing these things will also help with shame you will experience at having a relapse and motivate you to restart your recovery. Sitting in isolation with self-pity or keeping your relapse a secret are ways your disease is trying to keep you in its prison. Remember that our disease of addiction is bigger than any one of us and we need the strength and support of our Fellowship to confront and challenge it.


2- Take responsibility

  • As we have seen, relapse is a process that occurs in successive stages. The same is true with coming to terms with a relapse. After we have used drugs again, we go through an amalgamation of emotions before we finally accept what has happened. Hearing that relapse is a common and natural occurrence may not be enough to console us. We may feel devastated for the days, months, or years of clean time we think we have thrown away.  We may need to grieve, to feel sadness or anger before we can come to terms with what has happened. It is once we have been able to process all these emotions that we slowly realize the lessons our relapse had to teach us and so grow in our recovery.
  • Many of us who relapse feel resentment towards those who did not support, alert or stop us! But the fact is that no one is responsible another person’s relapse, just as no one is responsible for another’s recovery. We need to be mature and take responsibility for using drugs again and not blame others or circumstances for our relapse. Blaming our relapse on our family, our job, or our Fellowship is giving them control and power over ourselves and our recovery. The truth is no one and nothing can make us use drugs again. Ultimately it is a choice we made irrelevant of causes or pressures. The more you can be honest and take responsibility for your relapse, the quicker you can come to terms with it, feel empowered to take healthy actions and restart your journey.


3- Use Fellowship support

  • 12 Step programs and Fellowships offer us the most effective tools and resources to make the necessary changes to our life and so to live free from addiction. They provide us with the indispensable means to live in recovery one day at a time. So after a relapse, the most important thing is to use these tools and resources. You will need to restart working your Steps so that you may gain a better understanding of them this time around. The reason for you relapse most probably lies in your lack of working knowledge of one or some of the Steps. You may have been struggling over acceptance of powerlessness over your disease – Step 1 and so used drugs again thinking you could manage them. Or you may have started to rely on your own thinking and dismissed faith and belief in your God to remove your obsession with drugs – Step 2. Most defiantly by working your Steps again, you will find out what led to your using drugs again. You may also want to change your sponsor if you believe the guidance or the support has not been sufficient for you. Remember we need to be selfish about our recovery and be willing to go to any length for it. So take whatever measures you believe necessary to get yourself back on the recovery path.
  • Following a relapse, you need to get back into using the support of your Fellowship. Try attending as many meetings as you can and share about your experience of what led you to use drugs again. This way you lessen the shame you most probably feel and gather strength from the support of your fellow members to restart your recovery. Listen to their experience and what tools they used to get back into recovery. Or just attend meeting as a way to confront your disease and come out of isolation. After a relapse our disease becomes active again and it is bound to play games on our minds to convince us to continue using drugs. But by attending meetings we place ourselves in a safe environment where there is care and support, which will encourage and empower us to think straight and take positive actions. Some of us attend two meetings a day after a relapse until our obsession and cravings have subsided. The choice of how may meetings you attend and how you use the suggestions and the support of your Fellowship is up to you. But experience demonstrates beyond any doubt that immersing ourselves in the program and the Fellowship is the surest way to get back on track after a relapse.
  • You may want to get involved in some sort of service right away. This will help you get connected to your Fellowship again and will encourage you to take action for your recovery. Also keep yourself surrounded with recovery people, meet with them for coffee, call them regularly. The point is after a relapse, we have gone back to our old ways of living and our disease has become alive again. Our way of thinking and behaving has gone back into being insane and destructive and we need the help of our program and our Fellowship to combat a disease that is much bigger than us.
  • There is extensive information on how to utilize and gain maximum benefit from the support of your Fellowship in the section: Anonymous Fellowships.


4- Take recovery actions

Below are suggested actions to take right after you have had a relapse that will motivate you to get back on the recovery track:


1) Immediately call your sponsor and tell him or her has happened.

2) Go to your Fellowship meeting and share honestly about what has happened and ask for help and support.

3) Remember that we all have only 24 hours a day in recovery. Accept you are an addict in daily recovery, have momentarily reverted to your old ways, and then start a new day in recovery.

4) Accept that you will go through an emotional process before you come to terms with your relapse. You are bound to feel a range of emotions and be vulnerable and sensitive. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, remembering that they are just feelings and that you don’t have to act on them by using more drugs.

5) Let go of any self-defeating or negative emotions that allow your disease to further sabotage you. This includes letting go of shame and guilt. Remember that we are sick people trying to get well, not bad people trying to get better.

6) Do your recovery in manageable bits. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in what has happened and don’t worry about how you are going to stay clean tomorrow. Keep yourself focused on how you can stay clean right now.

7) Write down a relapse prevention plan. This will help you understand why you resorted to using drugs again to cope with life. What triggered you to do so? What were the warning signs you ignored – the changes in your emotions, thinking and behaviors that led you to relapse? How did you let your recovery slip as the number one priority in your life? What were the recovery actions and suggestions you disregarded? Then go over this list with your sponsor to see the things you need to learn about yourself in recovery and your disease. Click here for information on how to create your relapse Relapse Prevention Plan.

8) Consider whether you should seek professional help for other psychological issues you may have or which may have led to you to using drugs as a way to cope.

9) Pay attention and take care of your physical health. This includes eating 3 meals a day. Sleeping and resting as much your mind and body needs to restore itself, after this shock to its system. You may want to take some exercise to help your system clean itself of the poison you have put in it again, and to bring you healthy energy.

10) Prioritize your recovery above all else in your life. Every other problem and decision can wait for the time being. What is important is for you to come back into recovery. For us, it can be a matter of life and death.

11) Use the support of your Fellowship and become extra active in it.

12) Work your Steps and follow all its suggestions and principles.

13) Above all, remember your relapse was not a failure, but a valuable experience and lesson. What is important is that you are able to make healthy choices today – and that you have taken responsibility and have shown great strength and courage in getting up and starting again.


5- Manage side effects

  • Many of us who have relapsed go through a period of physical and emotional upheaval, which is perfectly natural. We have put drugs in to our system, a kind of poison and this means we will have to go through a period of detox before our mind and body becomes clean and can function normally again. This means for a while we will feel vulnerable and sensitive. We have to accept the after effects of drugs in to our system and ride the waves of withdrawal symptoms until they fade away.
  • A relapse is also bound to be a hard knock on our sense of self. We may experience an intense sense of shame, guilt and resentment. But it is important to acknowledge these feeling as natural and to allow ourselves to experience them. What we do not want to use them as excuses to carry on using drugs. We may feel devastated not knowing why we resorted to drugs again. Our pride and ego may be so bashed that we may see ourselves as failures. We may stop going to Fellowship meetings, which of course is where we need to be so that we can get the support we need. We may feel angry because we think we have lost some kind of standing or stature in front of our family, our community or our Fellowship. Perhaps we had made it a habit of helping others in the Fellowship and doing service — and now we wonder if: ‘I have a good recovery and what kind of a message can I carry now?” But these are baseless and destructive thinking that will lead us to use more drugs. If we believe what our 12 Step program tells us, which is that we suffer from a chronic disease from which each of us has a daily reprieve, then we should not allow these addictive thoughts to deter us from seeking recovery again. If we believe Fellowships are places for addicts such as ourselves, suffering from the same trials and tribulations in recovery, then we should go to a meeting to share with humility our experience. We will then see how that experience can be useful to others. We will see that we have been able to carry a powerful message by being an example of how our disease can sabotage us and how we confronted it by taking courage and using the support of our Fellowship to come back into recovery again.
  • Remember that guilt, shame and resentment are what we feel when we believe addiction is a moral issue. But why should we feel ashamed of a relapse, if we believe we suffer from a chronic disease from which we are in recovery on a daily basis only? Negative, shame-based feelings are exactly the kind that will interfere with our ability to restart our recovery, to heal from it and enjoy our life of freedom from addiction. So we reverted to our old and familiar ways to live for a while, we all deserve the right to make mistakes and learn from them. We are not perfect and neither is recovery meant to be perfect but journey filled with trials and errors.


6- Seek professional help

  • If after you have had a relapse, you find yourself in a prolonged depression that saps you of the motivation to carry on with life, then it may be a good idea to seek professional help. If you are feeling suicidal or experiencing severe mental problems, you may need other types of support than what your Fellowship has to offer. In such cases seeing a therapist may help you come out of a deep depression and help you resolve and process the feelings that a relapse has brought up.
  • Each of us has their own reasons as to why we relapsed. This is something we each need to find out in order to learn from and restart our recovery. The truth is many of us started using drugs as our way to cope with our deep emotional issues such as violence, abuse, abandonment or trauma in our lives. Our reluctance or inability to process these issues in recovery may be the very thing that caused us to use drugs again as a way to escape or cope. But if we hope to restart our recovery and maintain it we need to become willing and ready to deal with the root emotional causes that led to our addiction in the first place. We may need to face certain painful truths about our lives in order to process them and finally get healed. When we are ready to do so, it may not be safe talking about such deep matters in our Fellowship meetings or with our recovery friends. The fact is that they may not have a similar experience nor know how to support us. If you believe you used drugs again as a way to cope with your deep psychological issues, then it is best to see a professional who can help and guide you process these. Some of us may also be suffering from other mental or physical illnesses that we are not fully aware of but which inadvertently led us to use drugs again as our way to cope. Seeking the appropriate professional after a relapse is a healthy, mature and responsible action as it can help you identify and resolve your non-drug related issues. For many of us having such external support has been the key to the maintenance of our recovery.


7- Learn from the experience

  • The truth is there is a reason you relapsed, even if you do not know exactly why. Given the way a relapse almost always occurs, you went through the 3 phases of relapse and were either unaware of the warning signs or ignored them. Remember that recovery essentially requires us to manage our emotions and find a healthier ways of thinking and behaving. Most likely you went back to your old ways of coping with life because you did not effectively use the tools and principles of the program to manage your feelings, thinking and behaviour. Maybe you lacked the knowledge of how the application of the Steps provides you with the means to live a new way of life. But this in itself is ok as recovery is a journey filled with trials and errors until we get settled into a life free from addiction. Yet this is where our relapse can turn into an asset as it can show us the Steps we need to work in order to change our ways and not fall victim to our disease again. Our relapse can be our greatest teacher in that it will point out to us the changes we need to make to our life, and ourselves if we hope to maintain recovery. Did we forget to keep our recovery as the number one priority in our life? Did we allow our disease to sabotage our thinking, telling us that we were “cured” and could now safely use substances? Did we put ourselves in high-risk situations, feeling overconfident or complacent about the kind of disease we suffer from. These are some of the things that our relapse can remind of us and though painful, we may even feel grateful for it as it made us experience the errors of our ways and ultimately served to help us grow in our recovery.
  • 12 Step programs of recovery require us to completely change our way of life. This is not an easy task and given the nature of our chronic disease, our natural way is to use drugs and live destructively. It is unrealistic to expect that we can suddenly give up a habit of a lifetime the day we make the decision to become clean. It takes time, and sometimes it involves painful experiences such as a relapse to make us realize the work we need to do in order to pursue our new way of life. Our relapse can be the pivotal factor that will lead us to work our Steps with more honesty and determination. It can help us realize why we cannot rely on our own thinking and how we have to use the support of our Fellowship if we hope to maintain our recovery.
  • One thing for sure, a relapse is a definite sign that something was wrong with our recovery and that we should now be prepared to make some big changes in how we live our life. First and foremost if we want to live free from addiction, we need to take responsibility for our recovery and become mature adults. We may need to change our belief system and say goodbye to the fantasy of how others should take care of us. We may need to accept the reality of our life circumstances, and live our life for what it is and not what we dream it to be. We may need to be “selfish” in the good sense of the word by putting our own needs and wellbeing above all else. We may need to distance ourselves from our lifelong using friends or our dysfunctional family if they trigger us to use drugs again. These are some of the tough decisions we may need to make if we don’t want to have another relapse. Though making such major changes in our life can be painful and filled with heartache, they are part of the recovery process in helping us face reality and become mature and responsible adults.

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