If you or a loved one experience a relapse, get back on track and don’t give up hope.


What is a relapse?

For a person recovering from addiction, returning to drug or alcohol use after a period of remission does not mean that the patient or the treatment has “failed.” Relapse is better understood as an important indicator that the care plan needs to be adjusted to better align with the patient’s needs.


Is relapse common?

Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply embedded behaviors and healing in areas of the brain and body affected by substance use. These changes take time. Relapse rates (a recurrence of symptoms) for people with substance use disorders are similar to those of other chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.

Patients are at the highest risk of relapsing during the first 90 days after their initial treatment intervention as they are experiencing major changes within their body, mind, and social context.

Often, people start misusing substances as a way to cope with life’s challenges, and when substances are taken away, they can lack the skills needed to cope with everyday stress. As a patient progresses through treatment, they develop these skills and become more confident in their ability to handle stress without using substances. It’s important to remember that people being treated for a substance use disorder require extra support during the period of early recovery.


What to do if you or a loved one relapses?

If you or a loved one experience a relapse, get back on track and don’t give up hope.

  1. Contact your clinician or care provider as soon as possible so that your treatment plan can be adjusted as needed.

  2. Gather support by talking to your trusted loved ones and/or local support group.

  3. Using the questions listed below, reflect on the experience and make a plan of action to help prevent relapse in the future.


Relapse Reflection & Prevention

While relapse is not uncommon in the process of recovering from addiction, it can be dangerous and all measures should be taken to prevent future relapses from happening. By reflecting on what events, situations, or feelings may have “triggered” a return to drug or alcohol use can help you watch out for these signs in the future and seek help before it happens.

When a recurrence of use is dealt with properly, it should provide both the patient and the clinician with an opportunity to strengthen recovery. A clinician should always be involved in deciding if any changes should be made to the treatment plan.


Here are some questions that can help you learn about your own triggers and make a plan to help you avoid high-risk situations in the future. Download the "Relapse Prevention and Reflection Worksheet."

Where were you?

Are there particular places that you should try to avoid if possible? (For example, taking a different route home to avoid places where you have used in the past or acquired substances.)


When did it happen?

Are there times of day when you are more likely to experience cravings? How can you prepare for this by scheduling other activities at that time? (For example, going to a recurring 12-step meeting, meeting up with a friend, taking an exercise class, etc.)


What emotions were you experiencing?

Was there anything out of the ordinary that happened beforehand? Were you tired? Hungry? Frustrated? Why?


What could you have done instead?

Think about different things you could have done in that situation that would have prevented substance use? (For example, calling a friend or sponsor, taking a walk, watching a TV show, meditating, etc.)




Understanding Severity

Finding Quality Treatment


Good Resources: 

“Relapse Prevention,” Recovery Research Institute.