The First Steps After A Relapse

First Steps After Relapse

You finally check into a treatment facility and take the first steps towards a new kind of living after a relapse. You have come to terms with the reality of your condition, gone through the program to get better, and you know the road ahead and have a taste of its many possibilities. Sometimes the future looks bleak, and sometimes it looks promising – but you know that, at the end of the day, there is a future.

But then a relapse kicks in. It happens to many people in recovery, and it’s always a painful experience. More than just the physical trauma of going through withdrawal again and reaching that same point that previously took you months to achieve, a relapse feels like a failure to most people, an inability to stick to recovery and a confirmation of all your worst fears and biggest worries.

But it is not. To take an analogy out of sports, people see relapses as bone-breaking and career-ending injuries, when they are in fact just stumbles in a long and possibly fruitful journey. It’s important to remember, above all else, that it isn’t the relapse that kills a person’s chances at living a sober life – it’s giving up on sober living.


A Relapse Isn’t The End

Before we get into the how of recovering from a relapse, it’s important to understand the why. Relapses can be demoralizing and the idea of going through it all again just to potentially face another one can cripple anyone’s motivation to stay strong and keep going. But it’s important to realize that a relapse isn’t just a forced reboot – it can be a chance to learn, and more importantly, you can turn it into something positive for your long-term sobriety, rather than a painful setback.

Perspective is important in life, and in recovery. The way you approach problems determines how you handle them, and if you handle them effectively. By understanding that a relapse is an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than a waste of time and effort, you can prepare yourself for a new kind of recovery, one marked by an experience that helps you better understand yourself and your addiction, rather than being stuck in a cycle that feels inescapable.


Learning From Our Mistakes

Relapses are triggered. Sometimes the trigger is internal, and most of the time, it’s external. People in early recovery will always be plagued by temptations from old memories, places, and people. Learning to live with these temptations and shut them out is central to permanently overcoming addiction.

The first step is to remove yourself from potential triggers as much as humanly possible. For most people, the idea of completely uprooting just isn’t feasible – but there is a lot you can do to change the way you live, from taking a different route to work, to taking the necessary steps to remove yourself from relationships that you know are harmful to your recovery and your long-term sobriety.

Beyond that, however, it’s also important to learn to manage your stress. Relapses are not just triggered by memories, but they can also be triggered by a need to self-medicate under extreme stress. If you find yourself needing an outlet and immediately think of release through drugs, then you’re on a bad path. Get help, call someone, and learn to cope with difficult times and stressful situations by adapting healthy and constructive coping mechanisms, such as exercise and art.

When relapses do happen, they’re an opportunity for you to think back and reflect on what caused them to begin with. Was it a particularly stressful episode in your life? Was it someone, or something? Think back to what exactly pushed you over the edge and made you think that everything you had done prior to that point was worth erasing over the ecstasy of another hit.

Sometimes, it does not have to be particularly profound. Addiction can affect thinking and decision-making, thus leading people who struggle with their sobriety to be prone to risk-taking. However, thinking back to what led you into a state of mind where relapsing became possible can help you identify how to change your recovery.

Following the exact same treatment and changing nothing about your recovery plan is not the correct response to a relapse. Instead, analyzing where things went wrong and adjusting can help you fortify yourself from that same mindset, and better prepare yourself for temptations and stressful situations in the future.


Recommitting And Moving On

The hardest thing to do after a relapse is accept what just happened and decide to soldier on. Even if you manage to point out to yourself that this can be a learning experience with which you can further build your sober life, it’s impossible not to feel a little bit compromised. However, life is not about guarantees. It’s about chances, choices, and circumstances. If you’re struggling with addiction and are fighting to live a sober life, then your circumstances have many odds stacked against you. But through your treatment, you’ve got the chance and you’ve made the choice to get better.

After a relapse, embracing your newfound ability to choose outside of addiction and recommit to staying sober for yourself and your loved ones means embracing that life has no guarantees, and it’s on you to lead your life in the right direction. You made a mistake, because you’re only human. But it doesn’t make you a bad human, or a failure. Instead, it’s another pivotal moment where life gave you the choice to give up or keep moving forward – and as long as you keep moving forward, you’re on the right track.


Overcoming Your Fears

The fear of  relapse is a very real thing. Fear as a psychological concept can be a tool or a hindrance. The fear of death can drive us to live in the direst of circumstances, to survive even against terrible odds. However, fear can also paralyze us and keep us from living. If you fear something excessively, then it keeps you from moving past it.

The fear of death kicks in when your life is truly in danger. But the fear of a relapse only keeps you fixated on the possibility of relapsing again, instead of allowing you to embrace the confidence you need to put relapses behind you and focus instead on living each day committed to sobriety and your own happiness.

Relapses are painful and can be difficult to overcome. It’s not easy to get clean again and recommit. But it’s possible – and if you want to get sober, it’s necessary. It will get easier to resist temptations and ignore cravings with time, and with a little help from friends and family, you can keep on the right track even on the bad days.

Fighting Against The Stigma Of Addiction

Fighting Against The Stigma Of Addiction | Transcend Texas

Addiction is a chronic brain disease, which is often defined by its pathological inability to stop consuming drugs or alcohol. Even with certain dangers or health risks, people with a substance addiction continue to use. Numerous elements like psychological, social, and chemical components make addiction very difficult to permanently break.

Addiction and Shame

Substance abuse is often hidden in secrecy and shame and can become further enmeshed in denial, when a person is confronted. However, addiction becomes more severe the longer a person has it and the longer they deny it.

Cultural and societal factors often exacerbate addiction due to the shame surrounding it. According to psychologist Mary Lamias, Ph.D.:

“Shame informs you of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, or regret about which others may or may not be aware.”

Shame is a powerful emotion. And its influence matters a great deal, though most people won’t admit it. An individual’s sense of self can often be regulated (or harmed) by shame. The more culture creates a sense of shame and negativity about addiction, the more people will look at themselves as being unworthy or broken. They may hide their addiction and their need for help even more.

As the inner workings around addiction continue to be misunderstood, shame becomes stronger and buried deeper. The majority of addiction is rooted in shame, which is why many individuals fear to be vulnerable and ask for help. This is a major roadblock to recovery.

Typically, when addicts are at the cusp of seeking and starting treatment several things have happened. They have had huge conflicts with family and friends, they have been terminated from their job, or (on the more severe end) they have been caught committing a crime to support their habit. At this point, an intervention occurs – which is conducted by a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, and the individual often has no choice but to commit to treatment.

Even in the face of an intervention, addicts may have trouble admitting their addiction because of how they will be viewed or because they may feel ashamed of what they did while they were under the influence.

Understanding the Origins of Addiction

The origins of an addiction are based in toxic shame. Whether it is neglect, abandonment, or abuse of any kind, if it occurred for a prolonged period of time there are definite correlations between that trauma and addiction. Addicts need to understand those past factors as a way to understand the complete picture. For so long, they probably avoided or suppressed that pain. But in order to move on, they must face it head on.

The Stigma of Addiction

People who do not have experience with knowing someone with an addiction problem, have negative stereotypes of what addiction looks like. Sometimes people connect it with homelessness or abusive homes. While this may be true in certain instances, there is no definitive portrait for what a recovering substance abuser looks like or what their circumstances might be. Research shows that addiction may develop because of a combination of reasons like DNA, environmental factors, past history, and chemical imbalances to name a few. Addiction can affect anyone.

However, the stigma around people who turn to drugs or alcohol is negative and damaging. Most people don’t seek help because they are afraid of the stigma of being defined and labeled. It’s summarized best in the snippet below from this article by the The Fix:

“Stigma is what says your drug and alcohol use is a character flaw. It’s why you would rather lie than tell someone that you are not doing okay. It was why I would rather steal than let people know I needed help.”

People who do not any idea about what addiction entails may think that addicts have no self-control. Sometimes they are thought of as selfish or weak. For instance, if a celebrity appears in the news for entering a rehabilitation program, the public consensus is rarely, I wonder if he or she is okay?

The negativity around addiction is pervasive in today’s culture. One of the ways to fight that stigma is to talk frequently, openly, and honestly about personal struggles and stories about addiction and recovery. Non-profit outlets like Stigma Fighters, provide an outlet for people write it all down, either anonymously, with a pen name, or with your real name. They provide a safe place to release shame and fight stigma about mental illness. Writing or journaling has also been shown to have powerful healing effects.

People create a strong sense of understanding when they are forthcoming with their struggles. Discussing reasons for turning to substance abuse may shed light on interpersonal relationships and the origins of a serious mental illness.

Pushing Back Against Shame and Stigma

Addicts who feel shame from the stigma of addiction can do a lot to become more resilient in recovery. Connect with others. Create a circle of support. No one will understand your journey more than fellow peers in sober living. Growing a network of healthy and sober individuals will help you develop strength not only for when you leave recovery, but also for your work as an independently recovering addict in the future.

Your strength lies in your story and understanding. Empathy is an important lesson often learned in therapy and 12 Steps meetings. There you have the opportunity to listen, be heard, and share. Compassion and empathy from these experiences help eliminate personal shame and fight the stigma you may have buried beneath about what it means to be an addict. There should be no shame surrounding your experiences. Mistakes are part of being human, but so is the chance to rectify things and look towards the future.

Sharing Your Story

Confronting trauma is a way to heal from the inside out. In doing so, you get to the root cause of your disorder and you face the very origins that made you feel like you couldn’t handle it, when instead you had to turn to something else to numb the pain.

But that is in the past. Fight for your sobriety by sharing your story with others. Don’t waste a second in therapy. Speak openly and honestly with your therapist and in group sessions. By releasing your past pain, you fight the stigma of addiction by showing the resiliency of recovery. Fearlessly telling your story without hesitation, frees you and empowers others to do the same.

A Roadblock to Recovery: The Stigma of Addiction

A Roadblock to Recovery: The Stigma of Addiction | Transcend Texas

For many, stigma can be the one obstacle that keeps them from getting sober. And understandably so. Stigma is the judgment society places on people and behavior. In addition to judging addicts, society also tends to judge those with a mental illness. Yet, people tend to judge that which they do not understand.

Fortunately, there are those who are fighting to reduce the effects of stigma. They recognize that the stigma of addiction can prevent someone from calling for the help they need. They recognize that people might fear reaching out for support because they don’t want to be judged by family, friends, coworkers, or community members. For these reasons, there are many individuals and organizations who are working hard to break through stigma.

One way to reduce the effects of trauma is to send the message that the length and quality of life is much more important than what others think. Although it’s sometimes difficult to ignore the judgment of others, here are five actions you should consider taking for moving past stigma and getting the help you need.


Recognize that you need help to get sober. Often, a stigma may not get in the way until you’re faced with the challenge of calling for help. It’s then you’ll have to admit that you’re struggling with an addiction. And once you’re getting the support you need, you might not like the idea of having to talk about the difficulties you’ve faced. Yet, despite the judgments and opinions of others, a recovering addict finds help by admitting that he or she needs assistance with breaking through the barrier of addiction.


Connect with others who once struggled with the stigma of addiction and moved through it. When you’re at the beginning of your journey, the stigma of addiction might feel the strongest. However, once you’re past that point and you’ve made connection with others, it’s likely that you’ll hear that the stigma is no longer an issue. Forming relationships with others can be a significant part of pushing through stigma and finding support for your sobriety.


Keep your attention on your recovery. If you’re past the beginning stages of recovery and you’re still feeling the stigma of addiction, place your focus on your sobriety and recovery goals. A common beginning goal to sobriety is 90 days sober. Staying focused on this goal can help you break through the effects that the stigma of addiction might have on your life.


Make a plan for your recovery. Remember that the journey of recovery is about you and not anyone else. If the stigma of addiction continues to get in the way, shift your focus on where you are now in your recovery and where you want to be. Having a long-term plan can help plant the seed in your mind that at some point in the future you’ll be sober and free of the struggles of addiction.


Participate in community events aimed at breaking the stigma of substance use addictions. Frequently, there are community organizations holding events that help break down the stigmas of mental illness and substance abuse. Participating in these events can bring the company of those who have seen past the barrier of a stigma.

These are suggestions for moving past stigma. Although it can be hard to ignore what others think, it’s possible to move past that in order to save a life – your own or someone you love!