After relapsing, it is common to experience shame, frustration, sadness, fear, and even anger. Getting back on track can seem pointless and the future can seem uncertain. This makes the days and weeks after a relapse extremely delicate and critical. At this point in recovery, it is easy to slip back into old patterns. It can feel as though you are completely starting over, and you may not think that you have the energy to do so. However, by reframing the situation, you can walk away from a relapse with key information that can create a plan that lowers your risk of relapsing again.

After experiencing a relapse, it is easy to forget about past successes. This can create a frustration that overshadows what you have learned, and your ability to analyze what has worked versus what has failed. It is important to watch out for “all-or-nothing” type of thinking when coping with a relapse. It is easy to call the situation a complete failure, but were there any successes shortly before? Immediately after a relapse, the most critical thing to review is your relapse prevention plan. Something in the plan did not work when you used. However, you don’t want to necessarily discard the entire relapse prevention plan, because parts of it may have worked as well. Therefore, you need to use the time after a relapse as an information gathering time, where you can reassess the effectiveness of your relapse prevention strategies, and change them as needed.

With success, comes the pressure of success. Although succeeding can improve your self-esteem, it also comes with expectations. Therefore, it is challenging to let go of the successful image,  and allow people who are close to you know about your failures. However, this is what leads to your personal growth, and the growth of your relationships. Though being honest is simple, it is not always easy. Yet in the long-run, honesty is what builds trust. Maintaining a false image of yourself is rarely believable, and usually is impossible to maintain. Furthermore, rarely does someone successfully make it through an addiction alone. Whether it be family or friends, a support group, or professional help, hanging onto the control of a false image is setting yourself up for future failure. Remember, the point of a relapse, as with any mistake, is to learn from it.

When revamping your relapse prevention plan, remember to separate what you do from who you are. This will help you through the grieving process that you are working through. Avoiding the trap of getting stuck on labels will help you progress. Just because you fail, does not mean that you are a failure. You still have the small victories that you have earned, and nothing ever can take those away. These successes will mean more in the long-run when you give yourself the best chances of success.

Finally, walk through your negative emotions, don’t avoid them. With a mistake, naturally comes some negative emotions. It is important to know that these are normal to experience. When people fight to keep negative emotions at an arms distance away, the distress levels don’t go away, but rather often intensify. Therefore, although it is not fun to work through these emotions, you can walk away from them wiser and better able to handle similar situations in the future. If you find this part of your relapse prevention plan to be a struggle, substance abuse therapy can help you navigate through these feelings.

Relapsing from an addiction that seemed like it was under control can be frustrating and scary. If you use this as a time to reassess your relapse prevention strategies, you will walk away with a plan that is less likely to run into problems in the future. Through this process, you can rebuild honest relationships with your friends and family, build on your self-esteem, and learn how to work through your emotions.


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