Relapse Recovery: I Relapsed, What Do I Do Now?

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As you embark on your journey toward recovery, there are many milestones to celebrate. Achieving sobriety is one of them, but it can also be accompanied by a sense of unease. The fear of relapse in recovery is a common experience shared by many who have faced addiction. The thought of losing all your progress can be daunting, but it is vital to remember that relapse is a part of the recovery process. Relapse recovery is a part of the ongoing process of addiction recovery. If you or a loved one relapse, finding a good rehab is the right next step.

In this guide, we will delve into the topic of addiction relapse and offer insights on what happens when you relapse and how to deal with relapse in recovery. We will also examine questions such as:

  • Why is relapse a part of recovery?
  • Is recovery considered unsuccessful if a relapse occurs?
  • What is the fastest way to recover from a relapse?
  • What are the 3 types of relapse?

Whether you are in the early stages of recovery or have been sober for a while, an awareness of the risk of relapse and a plan in place to address can help you stay anchored to your recovery.

Relapse and Recovery

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) defines substance use disorder (addiction) as a chronic and relapsing disorder. Central to all addictions is the compulsive use of substances in the face of negative outcomes.

Addiction is classified as a brain disorder due to the changes it triggers in brain circuits related to stress, reward, and self-control. These changes may linger long after someone has stopped using drugs.

According to NIDA and most other substance use organizations, relapse rates during the recovery process are somewhere between 40% and 60%. This means that a significant number of individuals in recovery may experience a return to substance use despite their best efforts. This does not mean that relapse is not a sign of failure, but rather that the treatment plan needs adjusting. With the right support and treatment, it is possible to overcome drug relapse or alcohol relapse and continue on the path toward long-term recovery.

What Are Relapses?

A relapse occurs when a person who has achieved sobriety returns to using drugs or alcohol. While a lapse refers to a short-lived slip, a relapse is a complete return to substance abuse. Individuals in recovery often face a high risk of relapse recovery as chronic substance use can cause structural and functional changes in the brain that persist even after achieving sobriety.

Addiction relapses can be triggered by certain thoughts, emotions, or events that can result in cravings and urges for drugs or alcohol. In some cases, the relapse process may begin weeks or months before a person drinks alcohol or uses drugs.

Relapse typically progresses through three stages. The first stage, known as the emotional relapse, begins long before someone picks up drugs or alcohol. During this stage, a person may struggle to cope with their emotions, withdraw from others, deny the existence of problems, and neglect self-care. Although even is someone is not consciously thinking about using, failing to address underlying emotional issues can create a pathway for relapse.

The second stage, known as the mental relapse, involves a person being aware of conflicting feelings about sobriety. While one part of them may want to stay sober, the other might be battling cravings and thoughts about relapsing. A mental relapse may also involve romanticizing past drug use, minimizing the negative consequences of substance abuse, and seeking out opportunities to use alcohol or drugs.

The third stage – physical relapse – involves actually using drugs or alcohol. What may begin as a small lapse – having one drink, for instance – can rapidly escalate into full-blown substance abuse, characterized by an inability to control or moderate use.

Is Relapse a Part of Recovery?

Addiction relapse is a controversial topic in the recovery community, with some individuals arguing that relapse is an inevitable part of the recovery process, while others believe that it is not necessary for successful recovery. That said, many addiction specialists and treatment professionals agree that relapse can be a common and normal part of the recovery journey.

At Ohio Recovery Centers, we understand that addiction is a chronic and complex condition that can be challenging to overcome. Despite someone’s best efforts, the path to recovery can be bumpy, and setbacks can occur. Relapse is not a failure, but rather a temporary roadblock that can be reframed as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Relapse can occur for various reasons – stress, triggers, and negative emotions. Keep in mind that relapse does not need to be the end of the recovery journey. Instead, be honest and open about relapse, seek support and relapse help, and recommit to the recovery process.

Recovery is a lifelong journey that requires commitment and effort. It is not always a linear process, and obstacles can crop up. Relapse does not have to be an integral part of the recovery journey, though. With the right support, resources, and mindset, individuals can overcome addiction and achieve lasting recovery.

What To Do After a Relapse

Determining whether or not you need to return to rehab is the first step in overcoming a relapse. If it was a one-time occurrence and you are committed to making changes to your recovery plan, you may not need to enter an inpatient facility. However, if you find yourself falling back into a pattern of substance abuse, it may be necessary to enter a more structured treatment program with hands-on care and ongoing supervision.

Signs that you may need to return to treatment include talking about substance use, spending time with people who encourage you to use, or relying on substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Upon returning to treatment, it’s key to focus on therapy, especially CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). CBT is a form of talk therapy that is proven effective for treating addictions and can help you develop new behavioral responses to distorted thinking.

Many treatment programs also offer other forms of therapy such as art and music therapy, yoga, relaxation techniques like mindfulness and meditation, physical fitness, and even equine therapy. These strategies can help you maintain a stress-free life and cope with other challenges like episodes of depression, anxiety, grief, or anger in your recovery.

The focus should also be on the transition back to regular life from the moment you enter treatment after a relapse. Sober living environments can be a helpful option for avoiding relapse during the vulnerable first few months post-treatment. Additionally, it’s beneficial to have an outpatient plan for continuing therapy after you leave. This can help you maintain your progress and continue to work on your recovery.

How to Deal with Addiction Relapse

Dealing with addiction relapse can be overwhelming, but up to six out of every ten people in recovery will relapse at least once. If you want to know how to recover from a relapse, consider the following pointers:

  • Acknowledge the relapse: First, be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you have relapsed. This will help you to take the necessary steps to get back on track rather than allowing a lapse to derail your recovery.
  • Reach out for help: Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from your sober support system – your sponsor, therapist, or loved ones. They can provide you with the encouragement and support you need to get through this difficult time.
  • Re-evaluate your treatment plan: Take the time to reassess your treatment plan with your therapist or treatment team. Identify any areas that may need to be adjusted or improved to help prevent future relapses.
  • Practice self-care: Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet. Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing to help manage stress and anxiety.
  • Avoid triggers: Identify any triggers that may have contributed to your relapse and take steps to avoid them. This may include staying away from certain people, places, or situations.
  • Be patient and persistent: Recovery is a journey, and there may be complications along the way. Be patient with yourself and persistent in your efforts to stay sober. Remember that each day is a new opportunity to make progress toward your goals.
  • Celebrate your successes: Take time to acknowledge your successes, no matter how small they may seem. Celebrate your progress and achievements to help stay motivated and positive.

Dealing with addiction relapse can be demanding, but with the right mindset and support, it’s possible to get back on track and continue on the path to recovery.

What Are the Outcomes of a Relapse?

Relapse can have serious consequences on a person’s physical and mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life. A relapse can lead to a return of the negative effects associated with addiction – legal problems, financial instability, and job loss, for instance. The stress of these consequences can also provoke further substance abuse, creating a vicious cycle of addiction and relapse.

Beyond this, relapse can lead to increased feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness. It may feel like all the progress made during recovery has been lost, leading to a sense of failure and disappointment. This can cause a person to give up on sobriety entirely, further inflaming the issue.

Always bear in mind that relapse is a common if expected part of the recovery process. It is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather an opportunity for growth and learning. With the right support and treatment, a person can get back on track and continue their journey towards a healthier, sober life.

Strategies to Prevent Relapse

Relapse can be prevented, but it requires effort and commitment on the part of the recovering person. Here are some strategies that can help prevent a relapse:

  • Stay connected: One of the most important strategies to prevent relapse is to stay connected with people who understand what you’re going through as you move from drug addiction or alcoholism into ongoing recovery. This includes family, friends, and support groups. Attending support group meetings like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), or SMART Recovery can provide you with the opportunity to connect with peers who have lived experiences of addiction and share your experiences.
  • Avoid personal addiction triggers: Identify what triggers your desire to use drugs or alcohol. Triggers can include stress, boredom, certain people, and certain places. Once you identify your triggers, you can develop individualized strategies to avoid or cope with them.
  • Keep a journal: Keeping a journal can be a helpful tool for tracking your progress and identifying patterns in your thoughts and behaviors. You can use your journal to reflect on your successes and challenges and to identify areas where you need to focus more attention.
  • Attend ongoing therapy sessions: Therapy can help you identify the underlying issues that contribute to your addiction and develop strategies for coping with them by working closely with a therapist.
  • Have a plan: It’s important to have a plan in place for how you will cope with cravings or a potential relapse. This plan should include strategies for avoiding triggers, coping with stress, and reaching out for support when needed.

Get Help with Relapse in Recovery at Ohio Recovery

At Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers, we prioritize the importance of avoiding relapse as a crucial aspect of our addiction and mental health treatment programs. Our treatment options cater to a range of individual needs and the severity of addiction, including PHPs (partial hospitalization programs) and IOPs (intensive outpatient programs).

At Ohio Recovery Centers in Cincinnati, OH, offer specialized dual diagnosis treatment programs for those struggling with co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Our team of experts combines evidence-based treatments like MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, and counseling with holistic treatments. All treatment programs feature an aftercare component that includes relapse prevention and management techniques.Join us at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers to start your journey toward long-term recovery. Whether you are seeking help for alcoholism or drug addiction, we are here to provide you with comprehensive support from detox to discharge and beyond. For immediate assistance, call (877) 679-2132 today.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn