What Is a Relapse?: Tools & Prevention Strategies

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What is a relapse? A relapse can be described as the deterioration of a medical condition that had previously shown improvement. In the context of addiction, relapse signifies someone resuming addictive behaviors after a period of abstinence.

According to ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine), a relapse in addiction is characterized by the reappearance of behavioral signs of active disease following a period of remission.

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During a relapse in addiction, a person returns to substance use. Even a single instance of use can trigger feelings of demotivation, guilt, or shame, along with intensified cravings that may lead to further use. After experiencing a relapse, it is vital to promptly refocus on recovery and take steps to regain progress. Read on to discover more about these issues:

  • What is a relapse in addiction?
  • What is a relapse in mental health?
  • What is a drug relapse?

I Relapsed, What Should I Do?

Experiencing a relapse in your recovery journey can be disheartening, but setbacks are a common part of the recovery process. Here are some steps to consider if you find yourself in a relapse:

  • Acknowledge and accept: Recognize that a relapse has occurred and acknowledge your feelings and thoughts without judgment. Accept the situation as a temporary setback rather than a failure.
  • Reach out for support: Connect with your support network, whether it’s friends, family, a sponsor, or a therapist. Sharing your experience and seeking understanding and encouragement can be immensely helpful.
  • Reflect and learn: Take time to reflect on the factors that contributed to the relapse. Identifying triggers, stressors, or situations that led to it can help you develop strategies to prevent future relapses.
  • Adjust your plan: Reevaluate your recovery plan. This may involve revisiting your treatment program, adjusting your goals, or exploring different approaches that better suit your needs.
  • Seek professional help: If necessary, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional or addiction specialist for guidance. They can provide valuable insights and recommend appropriate interventions.
  • Avoid self-blame: Steer clear of self-blame or harsh self-criticism. Addiction is a chronic and complex condition, and setbacks are a part of the process. Treat yourself with compassion and understanding.
  • Recommit to recovery: Use the relapse as an opportunity to recommit to your recovery journey. Set achievable goals, create a structured routine, and stay focused on your long-term well-being.
  • Stay connected: Maintain your connection with support groups, therapy, or counseling. Consistent engagement with your support network can provide the ongoing encouragement needed for sustained recovery.
  • Practice self-care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This can include exercise, healthy eating, mindfulness, and stress-reduction techniques.
  • Stay hopeful: Remember that recovery is a process, and relapse does not define your journey. Stay hopeful and keep your long-term recovery goals in sight.

Consider seeking help and guidance during this challenging time. Many individuals experience relapses on their path to recovery, and with the right support and determination, you can continue working towards a healthier, substance-free life.

an image of someone who has relapsed recently

What is Considered a Relapse?

A relapse in the context of addiction typically refers to a return to addictive behavior or substance use after a period of abstinence or improvement in the condition. It can encompass various scenarios, including:

Substance use

The most common form of relapse involves a person resuming the use of the addictive substance or engaging in substance misuse.

Behavioral relapse

This occurs when individuals exhibit behaviors associated with their addiction, even if they have not yet resumed substance use. For example, they may engage in activities related to obtaining drugs or alcohol. 

Emotional relapse

Emotional relapse involves negative emotional and mental states that may precede behavioral relapse. This may include feelings of stress, anxiety, anger, or depression that can increase vulnerability to relapse. 


A lapse is a single instance of substance use or a brief return to addictive behavior. While it may not necessarily lead to a full relapse, it serves as a warning sign that additional support and strategies are needed to maintain abstinence.

What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?

A relapse prevention plan is a personalized strategy developed in addiction recovery to minimize the risk of relapse and to address potential triggers and challenges. Key components of a relapse prevention plan may include:

  • Identifying triggers: Recognizing situations, emotions, or stressors that can lead to relapse.
  • Coping strategies: Developing healthy coping mechanisms to manage triggers and cravings, such as mindfulness, stress reduction techniques, and exercise.
  • Support network: Identifying individuals and support groups to utilize in times of temptation or crisis.
  • Emergency contacts: Maintaining a list of contacts, including therapists, sponsors, or healthcare professionals, to call in case of an emergency.
  • Avoiding high-risk situations: Learning to avoid or manage situations where relapse is more likely to occur.
  • Self-care: Prioritizing self-care activities that promote physical and mental well-being.
  • Regular check-ins: Consistently attending therapy sessions or support group meetings for ongoing support and accountability.
  • Immediate response plan: Having a plan in place if a lapse or relapse occurs, which may involve reaching out for help immediately.

Getting Treatment After a Relapse

Experiencing a relapse can be a critical turning point in addiction recovery. It often signifies the need for adjustments in treatment or additional support. Seeking treatment after a relapse can include:

  • Reassessing the current treatment plan, goals, and strategies to determine what changes are necessary.
  • Consulting with a healthcare professional, therapist, or addiction specialist for guidance on the next steps in recovery.
  • Modifying the treatment approach, such as intensifying therapy, exploring different therapies, or considering medication-assisted treatment if appropriate.
  • Strengthening the support network and seeking additional support from peers, sponsors, or support groups.
  • Reflecting on the relapse’s causes and triggers to develop a more robust relapse prevention plan.
  • Reaffirming commitment to recovery and setting new, achievable goals.
  • Maintaining vigilance over progress and actively addressing any warning signs or triggers that arise.

Seeking treatment after a relapse is a proactive step towards sustained recovery. It demonstrates a commitment to overcoming challenges and continuing the journey toward a healthier, addiction-free life.

an image of people who got help after relapsing

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at California Detox

Although alcohol use disorder is a chronic and incurable condition, it nevertheless responds favorably to evidence-based treatment. We can help you unpack alcohol withdrawal and addiction at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA.

 For those who are alcohol-dependent, supervised medical detoxification provides access to medications, clinical care, and emotional care during the detoxification process. After roughly one week, you can move into ongoing inpatient treatment, the most structured and supportive route to recovery from alcohol addiction.

 The most effective alcohol addiction is personalized. Our team of committed experts will blend holistic and science-backed interventions, such as:

Whether you are ready to live unconstrained by alcohol addiction or you have relapsed and require follow-up treatment, call 949.694.8305 today for immediate assistance.


Having a relapse means returning to abusing drugs or alcohol addiction after a period of improvement or recovery.
An example of relapse is when a person who has successfully quit smoking starts smoking again after a few months of abstinence.


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