Does Relapse Have to be a Part of Your Journey in Recovery?

Everybody fears something, whether it’s the monster under the bed, thunderstorms, or getting fired from a job. If you’re in recovery, you probably fear relapse. It’s a logical fear.
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Why People Relapse and How Often

The statistics show it’s an issue. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the relapse rate for people in recovery is between 40 and 60 percent. The reality of recovery is that you don’t enter treatment and wake up the next day sober for life.

The Physical Process of Recovery

The recovery process often begins with detox. Your body needs time to detox from the effects of drugs and alcohol. While detox can reverse many of the physical effects of addiction, it can’t reverse changes in the brain. The brain in recovery is a susceptible organ. After years of being programmed to associate life and drug experiences, it doesn’t know how to react to sobriety.


The brain relies on cues or triggers. Triggers, for people in recovery, activate cravings. Why? Because they’re reminders of past drug or alcohol use. Cravings are those urges to use that can result in relapse. We’ll talk more about triggers shortly, but for now, realize they’re a significant player in recovery.

First Year in Recovery: The Struggle Is Real

Sober living is amazing but getting through the first year is a challenge. Recovery is uncomfortable. Instead of living in the normal state of chaos, your addiction provided now forces you to look at life through sober eyes. 

Sobriety is all about change, and change is scary. There’s also a lot of pressure associated with recovery. You put pressure on yourself to succeed in recovery. Also, you have family and friends standing behind you, and you feel pressure not to let them down. 

Let’s be real; life in recovery can feel boring at first. Before sobriety, you had your addiction and all the people you hung out with when you were using. That was your life. Now, what do you do? It’s not uncommon for a person in recovery to feel bored, restless, and lonely.

A Closer Look at Triggers

Add triggers to the mix, and you have a recipe for relapse. You’ll deal with two types of triggers. People, places, and things. These are physical triggers. You walk by the old party house where you used drugs or alcohol. Maybe you run into old friends you used to. 

You might even see an object you associate with using. Then you have mental triggers. A mental trigger could be your ex, who caused you a lot of emotional pain. Parents and other family members can also act as triggers. 

Some triggers are associated with trauma, such as physical and sexual abuse. Whatever your triggers are, they’re unique to you and your recovery.

Why Relapse Is Considered to Be Part of the Recovery Experience

When you imagine recovery, you think about what it’s like to start a new life. Living free of drugs or alcohol feels unnatural. Dealing with stress is a whole new experience. 

Instead of reaching for a drink or using your drug of choice, you have to find healthy ways of dealing with daily life. The instinct to turn to what feels natural is strong.

There are often three warning signs that you’re headed for a relapse: triggers, giving up on your 12-step program, and reverting to your old behaviors. That doesn’t mean you’re automatically doomed to go back to old habits.

Your Wake Up Call

Relapse is a wake-up call! It’s a time to come to terms with the fact that you do, indeed, have triggers. The friends from the old days, the ex who abused you, the family member who keeps bugging you. 

It’s an opportunity to let it sink in that you can’t shop at certain places or even eat at certain restaurants. Relapse can happen to anyone! It’s what you do with it that matters. You either reach out for help or go back to your old chaotic life.

Why Relapse Does Not Have to Be Part of Your Journey

Relapse is common in recovery, but it’s not inevitable. Like any new skill, when learning how to embrace sober living, you may take one step forward, two steps back at first. The key is not beating yourself up over the steps that make you feel like you’re going in reverse. 

Treatment staff encourages people in recovery to forgive themselves for those backward steps to continue moving forward in recovery. In addition to self-forgiveness, there are several things you do to prevent relapse. 

First, don’t attempt the recovery journey alone. There’s a whole sober community out there willing to walk with you. It’s up to you to seek them out.

12-Step or IOP?

Start by joining a 12-step support group. It’s where you can get a good foundation for sobriety. Depending on your unique situation, an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is another option. 


IOP uses the help of therapists, while 12-step programs use the help of a sponsor. Both are excellent options for preventing relapse.

Create a Support Network

Surrounding yourself with positive people, preferably those who are sober, is all part of developing a support network. Support is critical to sober living. Collect phone numbers, and don’t be afraid to use them!

The Spiritual Side of Recovery

Many people in recovery choose spiritual practices to help keep them moving forward. Church or synagogue attendance. Prayer and meditation. These are all helpful for preventing relapse.

Recovery doesn’t mean you wake up sober and live happily ever after. There’s hard work ahead and the possibility of taking a few steps in reverse. 

The key is not living in constant fear that you’ll relapse. If that’s you, you’re focusing on the wrong thing! The more you obsess over the possibility of relapse, the more you set yourself up for it.

Related Articles: 

How to Help Someone Through a Relapse

Major Warning Signs of Relapse

Combating Relapse with Happiness 

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