Relapse During Recovery – The Road to Success

Struggling with an addiction means the possibility of experiencing relapse during recovery at some point over the course of your journey. Although relapses aren’t uncommon, the process of moving forward after a slip is difficult. Preconceived ideas of what a relapse means can put added stress on the recovery process and ultimately hurt one’s chance to stay sober in the long run. Understanding how and why relapses occur can help you to forgive yourself or a loved one and move toward a healthy recovery process. Many people say that they learned a great deal from these failures and that it was this that finally gave them the ability to quit for good. 

Are you or someone you loved dealing with a relapse during recovery? Are you wondering if relapse really is a part of recovery? Where does the line between helping and enabling begin? Read on to learn why relapse doesn’t mean failure. And how to put yourself back together after a slip. 

 relapse during recovery

Common Reasons for Addiction Relapse

Unfortunately, relapse rates for individuals who enter recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction are quite high.  Studies reflect that about 40-60% of individuals relapse within 30 days of leaving an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center, and up to 85% relapse within the first year.  It is important for individuals who struggle with alcohol dependence or other substance dependence to acknowledge the high risk for relapse, have an awareness of what their own personal triggers are, and learn to cope with their triggers and emotions in a healthy way.  Through an understanding of common risks for addiction relapse, individuals can be better equipped and better able to maintain their recovery.  


Many individuals relapse during recovery within the first week of stopping their substance use in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, or thereafter due to post-acute withdrawal symptoms which can last for up to 6 to 18 months.  Individuals with an alcohol or drug addiction will experience varying degrees of withdrawal symptoms when they stop using their substance of choice.  Depending on the type of substance used, the quantity of use, the frequency of use, the duration of use, and other factors, withdrawal symptoms will be different on a case by case basis.

Uncomfortable Emotions

In active addiction, when you were tired you used alcohol or drugs.  When you were angry you used alcohol or drugs.  When you were sad you used alcohol or drugs.  When you were lonely you used alcohol or drugs.  When you were stressed you used alcohol or drugs. Nobody wants to experience uncomfortable emotions, but they are a natural and normal part of the human experience.  What is not healthy is avoiding such emotions, or even worse, using alcohol or drugs to cover them up and sweep them under the rug.  The more we accept uncomfortable emotions and acknowledge that they are trying to teach us something important about our current situation, the better able we are to handle them and cope with them. 

Mental Health

Alcoholism and drug addiction are a problem in and of itself, but there is also a problem underlying the substance dependence.  Without addressing the underlying issues and simply stopping substance use, it is like putting a band aid on severed limb.  Oftentimes there are unaddressed or hidden mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, mania, personality disorders, or post-traumatic stress.  If an individual receives proper alcohol and drug addiction treatment, therapists, psychiatrists and other addiction specialists will work with the patient to address underlying mental health issues.  As with alcohol and drug addiction, mental health issues often require long-term attention to sustain recovery. 


Triggers are thoughts, feelings, sensations, situations and relationships that cause someone to drink or use drugs after a period of abstinence. For example, driving past a familiar drinking establishment, such as a bar or restaurant, may generate cravings in some people in recovery.

Triggers can arise when people feel sad or attend a social function where alcohol is available. Other triggers include stress, lack of sleep and various physical illnesses. Communicating with individuals who engage in substance abuse is a common trigger for individuals in recovery. Friends who do drugs or drink heavily might also pressure people to engage in substance use after addiction treatment.


A 2011 study published in Current Drug Abuse Reviews found that unemployment increases the risk of relapse after rehab treatment. Researchers found that risky drinking, which includes binge drinking or heavy alcohol use, is more common among the unemployed. They also found that unemployment is a risk factor for substance use and addiction.

Relapse During Recovery – The Danger Zone

Study after study shows the first ninety days in recovery are when the greatest percentage of relapses occur. This is because drugs of abuse rewire the brain, and it takes a significant amount of time away from drugs to repair and/or overcome this rewiring. Unfortunately, cravings usually get worse before they get better. In fact, the longer an addict stays clean, the higher his or her response will be to contextual cues. In other words, it’s actually harder to not pick up at sixty days than it is at six days.

The Danger Zone represents the grey area between active use and relapse during recovery. When you are in the danger zone, you are not directly participating in the behavior you wish to abstain from, but you are also not in a healthy state of mind. Without a treatment intervention, the Danger Zone may quickly give way to the Active Zone.

For example, a recovering alcoholic could be in the Danger Zone if she begins to walk down the alcohol aisle of the grocery store during each visit, to wish she had wine in the house after a stressful day at work, or simply to struggle with negative self-talk, which often used to be a precursor to her drinking binges. In short, anything that has the potential to compromise one’s sobriety is a behavior that belongs in the Danger Zone.

 It is incredibly important during initial treatment (and early aftercare) that addicts learn to recognize their triggers because relapse during recovery is much harder to prevent when you don’t see it coming. 

Is Relapse During Recovery a Sign of Failure?

Despite the fact that relapse is a well-recognized aspect of recovery from an addiction, many people attempting to quit an addiction will feel they have failed if they relapse. They might abandon their efforts, feeling that quitting is too difficult for them. Even some treatment programs take a hard line on participants who relapse.

Accepting that relapse is a normal part of the process of recovery is a more helpful way of looking at relapse. Individuals and treatment programs that take this view are more successful, and in the long run, those who accept and work to try again after a relapse are more likely to eventually overcome their addiction.

How to Get Back on Track 

  • Brace yourself. For many after a setback, a person’s guilt, shame, and humiliation come back tenfold. Prepare yourself for these feelings. Commit to using them as motivation to get back on track rather than as an excuse to hide away.
  • Create healthy goals, and hold yourself accountable for reaching them. It’s important to have goals you’re constantly working toward. Consider what you want your life to look like five years from now. One year from now, weeks from now, tomorrow. Make plans to realize that vision. And start taking steps forward today.
  • Get back into attending meetings. Gravitate toward others who are on the right track. You’ve heard a hundred times by now that recovery is not a solo sport. If you weren’t attending meetings before, now’s the time to start. If you were, now’s not the time to stop.
  • Pay attention to your past and learn from it.  What steps did you take to enter recovery in the first place? Pull out that plan and review it. Get back to the basics you started with. They were good ideas then, and they’re good ideas now.
  • Look on the bright side. A slip may feel like the end of the world. But really, it’s an opportunity for growth and reinforcing basic life skills that need more work. Many people emerge from relapse during recovery with a fresh scare regarding what they are up against, as well as a deeper commitment to becoming sober. This renewed motivation can help you come back from a relapse even stronger than you were before.

Relapse During Recovery with Little Creek

No matter how diligently you pursue your recovery or how committed you are to lifelong sobriety, there is a chance you will relapse at some point. At Little Creek Lodge, we offer a supportive and structured environment for men who are in the recovery process. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to help you through the next stages of your recovery. We want to empower you to make smart choices about your new sober lifestyle, and to develop long-lasting and healthy relationships with others. Many of our staff are former residents – proof that our process works. .If you are looking for treatment for addiction, or additional support throughout your recovery journey, Little Creek Recovery Lodge is here for you.

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