How to Handle Addiction Relapse: Tips for Coping and Recovering Your Balance

The answers for how to handle addiction relapse are rooted in the best habits and resources from your addiction treatment program. If you are starting from scratch, today is the day to reach out for vital treatment support. For long-term recovery, you can stop a relapse in its tracks, manage and avoid the triggers for addiction, always reach out to a diverse support system, and revisit your personal goals and hopes that you laid out at the start of your recovery journey.

At first, for Tomas, relapse wasn’t particularly meaningful because he didn’t feel that he had a lot at stake. He didn’t believe that his actions really had consequences in the bigger picture. And, perhaps most significantly, he believed that he had already failed beyond recovery by falling under the power of prescription pain pills, by losing jobs and relationships, by letting himself and everyone else down.

But relapse isn’t a failure any more than addiction is a failure. Addiction specialists are interested in helping you reclaim your power despite the overwhelming grip that substances tend to have. And addiction treatment programs are largely informed by your own personal goals.

Once Tomas asked for help, he was surprised to find that his journey wasn’t really about quitting the drugs. It was about rebuilding his life from the ground up and removing the obstacles in his way.

The prescription pills would always be an obstacle. And, even on the recovery path, relapse may always be an obstacle too. But, from his therapists and even from his peers, Tomas learned about how to handle addiction relapse. He learned about how to recognize his particular triggers and to cope with stress more productively, preventing the biggest risks of relapse. And he learned how to actually manage relapse should it occur sometime in the future. Right in his program, he had plenty of chances to practice interacting with his triggers, operating healthy coping skills, and tapping into his long-term support network. He came to value his recovery journey and his own efforts because he now has a clear view of what he wants and where he’s headed.

Tips for How to Handle Addiction Relapse

As difficult as it may be to accept, relapse is not uncommon for many people on the recovery path from addiction. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t matter or that we won’t do everything in our power to avoid it. But it is helpful to keep in mind because it is also very possible to mitigate the risks of addiction relapse and to restore the important pieces and supports in the road to recovery once relapse has already occurred.

Relapse matters. But it does not mean that recovery has ended. It does not mean that you’ve failed. And there are real plans in place to get you back on track.

So, what can you do? If you’ve been trying to steer clear of drugs and alcohol and you slipped or you think you’re about to relapse, what can you reasonably do to head back in the right direction?

1 – Stop a Relapse in Its Tracks

By returning to treatment, you can stop a relapse from progressing to active addiction. So, even if you let the drug tempt you again, you still have a choice to curb this detour. You don’t have to get far off of the recovery path at all. So, reach back out for help as soon as possible.

2 – Know and Avoid Your Triggers

Especially if you are in the midst of or on the verge of relapse, you are particularly susceptible to your usual triggers. These are the people, places, and things that have provoked you to use in the past and might do so again. If you’ve been through treatment, you know that it no longer serves you to visit the places where you used to use drugs or alcohol or hang out with the people who encourage those habits. Or triggers might be stressful situations that are difficult to cope with on your own, such as conflicts in relationship and breakups, death and loss, or mental health issues. You can see that some triggers are avoidable, and others call for support that you would find with a therapist or other recovery resource.

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3 – Fall Back on Your Support System

The best recovery outcomes come with a wide range of support: professional, peer, family, partner, career, and moral support. When you’ve gone through a treatment program for addiction, you have already actively built this diverse support system and practiced reaching out for help. And, as we’ve already discussed, there is no shame or failure in relapse. So, reach out sooner rather than later for help from some or all of your sources of support before isolation and addiction claim more of your power.


4 – Revisit Your Reasons for Recovery

It matters much less what other people want from your recovery and much more what you want from life. Success in a comprehensive drug addiction treatment program is going to depend on your buy-in as much as on the optimal treatment options. And when you find yourself on the edge of using—along with your active support systems and your practiced ability to cope with stress and triggers—you will benefit from revisiting your own hopes for life. Here, you will find your reasons to take the next right step, however small it may be.