For individuals in recovery, there is nothing more terrifying than the possibility of relapse. Recovering addicts can be sober for weeks, months or even years only to slip back into old habits and lose all of the progress they’ve made. The fear of relapse is not an irrational one, either – the National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA) estimates that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of addicts fall off the wagon at some point during their recovery.
What are addicts supposed to do after a relapse? Can they really start their recovery over again?
The bad news is that it’s easier to go back to abusing drugs after a relapse. For addicts who were trying to stay sober to avoid disappointing their family, it’s already too late – their family likely already knows about the relapse and, if they don’t, it’s all too easy to imagine their looks of disdain when they hear about it. It can be tempting for an addict to give into all-or-nothing thinking – if they failed this time, what will keep them from failing the next time? Recovery is difficult and no one wants to think about the time they “wasted” on their first attempt or their second, third or fourth.
The good news is that relapse is not the end of the line. Recovery is still possible.
Never give up hope
It can be difficult to figure out what do immediately after a relapse. Chances are, thoughts of guilt, hopelessness and anger are overwhelming. A few simple steps can help addicts begin their trek back to sobriety.
Talk to sponsor:
After a relapse, the first thing addicts should do is call their sponsor. Their sponsor might not be surprised to receive this call – after all, sponsors know what addiction looks like and might have suspected that a relapse was imminent. Although confessing a relapse can be embarrassing, sponsors should understand that addiction is a chronic, recurring illness. Chances are they have relapsed themselves at some point.
If the addict does not have a sponsor, he or she should consider finding one going forward. By communicating with a sponsor, the addict can receive help from someone who personally understands the realities of addiction. A responsible sponsor can help an addict through those first intimidating steps back to sobriety.
Talk to loved ones:
The next step for addicts after a relapse is to contact their loved ones. Like their sponsor, their loved ones are likely aware that a relapse has occurred. If they are not aware, it is important for addicts to tell their loved ones the truth of where they are in the recovery process. Addicts who have recently suffered a relapse might dread communicating with their loved ones – however, complete honesty is often necessary for a full and healthy recovery from addiction.
Return to treatment:
What’s the point of going back to treatment after a relapse? After all, the addict has already quit drug use once before. Shouldn’t he or she do the same thing this time, only without relapsing?
Even when addicts think they know everything there is to know about staying sober, each visit to a treatment center can serve as a learning experience. Now that they have experienced at least one relapse, they might also have a better idea of what they need from the treatment this time around.
A relapse can be a traumatic experience that makes addicts question everything they thought they knew about recovery and themselves. It can also confirm what they feared most: that they will never get better. Relax. It will be OK. Even if a person has relapsed countless times before, every relapse has the possibility of being the last. Individuals can climb out of their darkest, most severe relapse and never turn to drugs again.