Anyone who has struggled with addiction knows that the road to recovery is not an easy one. No matter what the vice, it takes a tremendous amount of willpower, strength, and courage to act against an impulse so strong.

Fighting to overcome addiction is an uphill battle, and once you have finally reached the top, the thought of ever going back down can be terrifying. But those low points, whether mental, emotional, or physical, are inevitable in the lifelong journey of sobriety.

People fear relapsing for many reasons; it can put your job, relationships, and the normalcy you fought so hard for at stake. However, a relapse does not equate failure and is very common among recovering addicts. So common, that it’s widely considered part of the recovery process.

Understanding Relapse

Relapse can be classified into two main groups, including:

  • “Traditional” Relapse: When a person makes the conscious decision to use drugs or drink after a period of sobriety.
  • “Freelapse”: An accidental relapse where a person doesn’t mean to use drugs or alcohol but does. (For example, being served an alcoholic drink or marijuana brownie when they believed it was a non-alcoholic drink or regular dessert.)

There are considered to be three stages of a traditional relapse; they are:

1. Emotional relapse

This is the beginning stage where someone may feel like they’re losing the ability to cope with emotions in a healthy way. This stage can take the form of bottling up emotions, self-isolating, neglecting self-care, or denying the issues at hand.

2. Mental relapse

During this stage, someone has become aware of their conflicting feelings. The part of the brain that fights cravings may start to waiver. In this stage, it’s common for someone to have thoughts about how they would use their vice of choice if they gave in to the temptation. 

4. Physical relapse

The physical relapse takes place when someone surrenders to their desires and uses drugs or alcohol. Sometimes this starts with the intention of only having one drink, or using a drug one time, but can quickly snowball into losing control, resulting in a relapse.

Triggers of Relapse

Truly anything can trigger someone and send them down the slippery slope to relapse. Even something as seemingly harmless a “positive mood” can be a trigger since alcohol is usually associated with celebratory events like birthdays or anniversaries. The lure of triggers impacts everyone differently, so it’s crucial for people in recovery to identify when they feel most tempted to slip up and work to avoid the catalyst of those feelings. 

Other common risk factors of relapse include:

  • Exposure to triggers
  • Peer pressure
  • Stress
  • Internal issues and personal problems
  • Lack of support
  • Low self-esteem
  • Physical pain

What to do if You Relapse

The aftermath of a relapse can be lonely and shameful, so it’s best to take action as soon as possible after it occurs. The quicker you act, the less set back you will feel in your recovery. Relapsing does not take away the possibility of rebuilding a clean life, and you are capable of reestablishing your sobriety.

Steps to take following a relapse include:

  • Reaching out for help
  • Going to a self-help group
  • Getting a sponsor, or confiding in them if you have one
  • Avoiding triggers at all cost
  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Investing in self-care
  • Reflecting on how and why this happened
  • Creating a relapse prevention plan

In many cases, the desire to keep using after a relapse is too overpowering for one person to face alone. In these instances, rehabilitation programs can be a powerful tool to get sober.

If you or someone you know needs help getting their life back on track, we are here to help. Kyle ER & Hospital’s Cynergi Health Recovery Program understands that receiving support should not come with judgment. Our 3-5 day detox program is designed to offer discreet, quality care to get patients back on their feet and start fresh. For more information, visit our website or give us a call at 512-504-9950.

Disclaimer: As a service to our readers, Kyle ER & Hospital and Nutex Health state no content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.


Nutex Health, Inc supports you and your family’s health. You can depend on Kyle ER & Hospital, or any of our concierge-level, medical facilities to deliver the emergency care you deserve, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.