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What to Do After a Relapse

Although it’s not a requirement for a drug addict in recovery, relapse often happens and is a part of many recovery journeys. Relapse is not a single event; it’s an insidious process that eventually leads to an addict taking that first drink or drug.

So, what often leads up to a relapse? Things start to slip in an addict’s program: meeting attendance dwindles, nightly inventories stop taking place, calls with a sponsor go to the wayside, answering the phone for a fellow addict who needs help stops happening, etc.

These are all red flags that indicate an addict is headed for relapse.

That’s the cunning, baffling, and powerful part of addiction; we addicts start to slack on our program and start to get sick without even realizing it.

Shame, remorse, and embarrassment usually accompany a relapse and can make it hard for an addict to reach out to their support system.

However, a relapse is nothing to be ashamed about—it’s what you do following a relapse that counts. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, it’s time to do what we’ve all been taught: TAKE ACTION!

I have a lot of experience with relapse and will be giving you my two cents on what to do after a relapse. So let’s get crack-a-lackin!

Here’s What to Do After a Relapse

When you relapse, there are several options. What you choose depends on where you’re at in life, what resources you have, and what you’re willing to do to stay sober.

To Rehab or Not to Rehab

When you’re wondering what to do after a relapse, rehab tends to be the first thing on most people’s minds.

Whether you’ve been in rehab before or not, it’s important to make the decision to go inpatient somewhere or not. How long the relapse has lasted or the number of attempts at getting sober after a relapse should influence this decision. 

Let me give you some of my personal experience.

The last relapse I had lasted about 2 months give or take. My relapses over the past few years have primarily been with crystal meth.

I would use it for a couple of weeks, stop, then take tons of Seroquel and sleep for a week. After this, I would start attending meetings and working the steps with a sponsor. My sobriety would last about 2 to 4 months, and then I’d repeat this cycle again.

So later I’ll talk about why I think I was continuing to relapse over and over, but right now I want to talk about why I finally decided to go to treatment after my last relapse.

So the 2 months (give or take) before I checked back into rehab I got back into heroin like it was going out of style. This coupled with crystal meth quickly took me down.

For my attempts at getting off the junk, I would go to my mom’s house for a couple of days and try to detox on my own. 

Then, just as I was feeling better, I would hop in my car and go score again. This I repeated for a while until I laid in bed, got real with myself, and decided to go back to treatment. It was apparent I wasn’t going to be able to stop on my own this time.

So, if you’ve been trying to stop on your own after your relapse and have been unable to, and you’re wondering what to do after a relapse, this is my suggestion—then you definitely need to check into treatment.

Redoubling Your Efforts After a Relapse

After a relapse, it’s time to get back to basics and act on all the suggestions that we were given when we first started our journey in recovery.

One thing many addicts struggle with when they try to get sober after they relapse is that we think we know it all, and that prevents us from having a new experience with the 12 steps, a higher power, meetings, etc. 

First things first: get with a sponsor immediately and start working the steps.

I can’t stress this enough.

This should be at the center of your attempt to redouble your efforts. Addiction is an illness which according to the Big Book of A.A. can only be conquered by a spiritual awakening.

This is the whole point of working the steps: to have a spiritual awakening that removes the obsession to use or drink.

Maybe you think you don’t need a meeting every day after a relapse, but we addicts need discipline! Going to 90 meetings in 90 days with an open mind can help us have the attitude of a newcomer and help us have a brand new experience with recovery.

Another helpful action to do after a relapse is to enroll in an intensive outpatient program (IOP). This usually lasts a couple of months, and it can provide an added layer of accountability along with group and individual counseling.

You may be able to find a state-funded IOP program if it doesn’t seem like something that’s affordable.

We have to search diligently to find out what our program was lacking before we picked up the first drug or drink again.

How much were we carrying the message? The Big Book says nothing is more effective at keeping us from a relapse than intensive work with other addicts.

“It works when other activities fail.”

My Experience with What to Do After a Relapse

In addition to doing the things mentioned above, there is another component of my current recovery that ties all things together.

I am currently genuinely seeking and developing a relationship with a higher power which I will call God.

My recovery over the past few years before my current sobriety has lacked this relationship. I would say the prayers and check the boxes, but I had no desire for a higher power to run my life.

I’ve noticed that recovery literature talks about having this “certain simple attitude” or “proper attitude.” It’s funny the things you notice when looking at the Big Book with fresh eyes. 

Well, I think this simple attitude is this: a desire and complete willingness to have a higher power run your life. This requires praying and asking “God” to please show us what “It” wants us to do, where It wants us to be, and how to do whatever we’re called to do each and every day.

Of course, we’re going to try running the show again at times, but that’s what steps 10, 11, and 12 are for! These steps are the daily disciplines that help us from completely going back into self-will run riot. 

Get Involved in Sober Social Activities

Social anxiety is something most addicts in recovery deal with. So what can we do about it? Practice being social! Going bowling, watching movies, and going out to eat with other addicts are great ways to practice.

Check to see if your community has a social sober club of some sort. If you are able, try to play some sort of sport with your new friends, such as basketball or volleyball. 

Many of us addicts are used to releasing super high levels of dopamine. When we don’t do something to produce dopamine anymore, we get depressed.

Depression leads to isolation, which can lead to picking up that first drug or drink again. Sports and working out are great ways to naturally produce dopamine in our brains, which will show us that we can have fun in sobriety.

Recovery is more than just working the steps and going into hospitals and institutions to carry the message. Recovery is about community. And community is how we do together what we could never do alone.

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Do you have suggestions on what to do after a relapse? Leave us a comment below because we are truly here to help!

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Michael Palma

Michael Palma is a drug addict in recovery who is passionate about recovery and recently has taken to writing about his own experience, strength, and hope and hopes to share this with as many people in recovery as he can. He has been a professional jazz pianist for over 20 years. He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Cobb (drummer for Miles Davis), Daniel Platzman (drummer for Imagine Dragons), Robert “Sput” Seawright (drummer for Snoop Dogg and Snarky Puppy), Greg Osby, and Terri Lynn Carrington to name a few.