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By Nathan Bailey, MA, LPC


As we work to maintain a change that we’ve made to our behavior, we may have a circumstance where we find ourselves having relapsed. When this happens, it’s easy to shift to a “catastrophic” frame of mind from which we see the thing we worked so hard to achieve disappear (or so we think). There is a lot that we can do to prevent a relapse but should it occur, try these 6 ways of responding to prevent further disruption to your recovery.

1. Don’t keep going

One of the most common responses to a relapse is “well, I’ve blown it…might as well keep going.” Our guilt and shame conspire together to keep us using and cause us to avoid dealing with what has just occurred. The “I’m in too deep…” error blinds us from the benefits of stopping before it goes any further. Someone who has been doing well in their treatment and recovery feels like all that effort has been wasted. I remind them that they can choose to respond to this relapse much differently from their past relapses because of the work they’ve done. In other words, if in the past you’ve relapsed and kept going for days, weeks, months etc. you can choose this time to stop after a few hours or a few days. Draw a line in the sand and tell yourself “I’m going to stop now.” 

2. Reach out for help

We don’t want to acknowledge to ourselves that we “picked back up again” and it’s even harder to admit it to someone else. However, getting help is one of the most important parts of dealing with what’s happened. As I just pointed out in the first response, asking for help might be a part of doing things differently from the last time you relapsed. Depending on the situation, you may need to seek the help of a medical professional, but other resources on the list could be a sponsor, someone else in recovery, a therapist, a family member, a pastor…the list goes on. Part of a good recovery is establishing a solid support system of other people who care about you and want to see you succeed. Now’s the time to use them! You didn’t just pick anyone for this help, you picked people who want you to rebound and keep moving forward. 

3. Slow things down

Given the experience with relapse, you may want to respond by doing everything and anything you can do to prove to yourself (and likely others) that you’re not going backwards. We need to remember that if we try to rebuild too quickly, we can become discouraged or burned out. Yes it’s important to take action after a relapse, but we need to prioritize what happens next so that we don’t relapse again. 

4. Learn from what happened

I’ve often told people that relapse doesn’t “just happen.” Yes, a trigger, an urge, an impulse can come out of the blue (which of course we should be prepared for…and even expect) but there has likely been many contributing factors that created a situation where a relapse was possible, likely or even…inevitable. In almost every occasion where I’m helping someone work through a relapse, we end up identifying a starting point that occurred significantly earlier than the actual event. You might hear this called “the relapse before the relapse” and if we learn from what happened then we can…

5. Build back stronger

This is often a time to challenge previous assumptions. You might now realize a healthy recovery isn’t just about having the right mindset and will power, but significantly changing big parts of your life (i.e. people, places and things). Your recovery can become stronger, your life can still improve and your resiliency can become more resilient. Sure, we don’t want a relapse to be a part of our story, and ideally you learn and keep growing without it…but it can happen and we can use it to our overall advantage. 

6. Don’t give up

Don’t let a relapse derail your efforts to change! Don’t let the guilt, disappointment and frustration take you even further into the old behavior. Maybe you only had a few weeks or perhaps even 10+ years of recovery, but in either situation, you can keep going. Each day you live in recovery, you’ve experienced a better day than when using. 

Let us help you

Lime Tree Counseling is here to help you prevent or recover from a relapse. We offer addictions counseling (substances, pornography and gambling), anxiety counseling, trauma counseling, grief counseling and more. Our office is in Lower Gwynedd, PA but we also offer online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in Colorado and online counseling in North Carolina. Schedule with us today and begin your journey to a different life!