How to Survive a Drug or Alcohol Relapse

How to Survive a Drug or Alcohol Relapse


In order to survive a drug or alcohol relapse you need to “stop the bleeding” as quickly as possible.

What this means is that in order to prevent your life from spiraling even further out of control after a relapse, you need to take corrective action immediately.

The single best thing that you can do in this case is to call a drug treatment center and get back in to residential treatment.

Many struggling addicts and alcoholics have lots of excuses as to why they cannot, or should not, go back to inpatient treatment. For example, they might argue that they have already been to rehab in the past, and that they know everything that is going to be taught to them at rehab, and therefore it is a waste for them to attend.

This is misguided though because you do not go to rehab only for the learning aspect of it–there are other benefits and reasons to be at inpatient treatment. For example, when you are in rehab you are in a safe and controlled environment without any temptations. Another example: when you are in rehab, you have instant peer support from others who are trying to accomplish the same thing that you are.

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So even though a struggling addict or alcoholic may give lots of reasons why “they don’t need to go back to rehab,” they are fooling themselves. Going back to treatment is the single best thing that they could do for themselves following a relapse.

The second best thing that the person could do would be tell on themselves. One way to do this is to go to those person’s or person who has been supporting you in your recovery and to confess the fact that you relapsed to them. So if you attend AA meetings regularly, you would go to that meeting and you should share very honestly about what happened. I know that this is very difficult to do because you will feel shame and guilt about the fact that you relapsed, but if you force yourself to “come clean” then you will be amazed at the level of support that you get, especially from a recovery meeting such as AA or NA.

If you keep your relapse a secret from everyone and anyone then this only causes you to continue to self medicate. If you expose your secret and confess to others then they can try to help you to get back on the right path. If you instead keep the relapse a secret then really you are only giving yourself permission to continue to self medicate, and you will want to keep medicating because you will feel all of the shame and guilt from the relapse. You will be essentially carrying the burden of the secret relapse all by yourself, and the strain from doing this will cause you to want to keep self medicating. It becomes a self perpetuating cycle: You relapsed so you feel bad, then you self medicate because you want to squash those bad feelings, then you feel bad again about drinking, and so on. The cycle feeds itself until you can either expose the truth to others, or decide that you have had enough and seek out professional help again.

Do not make the mistake of simply resigning yourself to more drinking or drug use. This is the single worst thing that you can do in the event of a relapse. People who choose this option often end up dead due to their addiction, as they let the shame and guilt of the relapse drive them to further drug or alcohol use. Also, people who relapse do not typically understand the progressive nature of their disease: Every time they stop drinking or taking drugs, then return to it, things get worse and worse. This is one of the ways that the disease progresses, and it can get worse even if the person has been clean and sober for a long time. Every time they relapse and “go back out,” things get so much worse once they start drinking again. They quickly revert back to their old level of consumption, and then the disease seems to also progress beyond that with even more chaos and uncontrollable behavior.

So the worst thing that you can do in the event of a relapse is to isolate and resign yourself to drinking or drug use. The best thing that you can do is to “tell on yourself” and to seek out professional help as quickly as possible. If you have been to inpatient treatment before, there are lessons there that you did not fully learn and internalize, and therefore you could benefit greatly by going back to inpatient rehab. If you know of a treatment center that could possibly help you, get on the phone immediately and call them up and start asking questions. Maybe you believe that you do not qualify to get help right now; call them up anyway. Maybe you believe that you don’t have the proper insurance to get help right now; call the treatment center anyway. If you do not know exactly who to call or which rehab can help you, then just call any rehab that you can find or start making a list of them and call all of them. Start asking questions and seek out the help that you need and someone will point you in the right direction.

This is really at the heart of addiction recovery: Asking for help rather than isolating and justifying your addiction. If you can convince yourself to reach out and ask for help then you can turn a relapse around and get back on track.

Pretty much everyone feels shame and guilt when they relapse. These emotions serve no useful function at all and can only keep you stuck in your addiction. So the key is to move past the shame and the guilt and to ask for help anyway, in spite of your feelings. If you can find the strength to do that then you can get the help that you need and get your life back on track quickly.

Notice just how quickly you become miserable following a relapse. You would think that if a recovering addict were to return to their drug of choice that it would be a party for a while, that it would be fun, that it would at least last for a little while, right? But this is not the case. If you have relapsed then notice just how quickly it went from being fun and exciting to being miserable and chaotic. The longer you have been stuck in addiction and the more times you relapse, the smaller this “window of enjoyment” becomes after you relapse. It can go from being a few days of fun to being only a few hours of enjoyment. Some people relapse and before they are even through with their first binge session they are already back to their old tolerance level and feeling miserable already. It just isn’t worth it.

The better way is to seek recovery, to work on recovery, to push yourself to go get the help that you so desperately need. Don’t stay stuck in active addiction any longer than you have to. You deserve sobriety, go after it!

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