Relapsing to drugs and alcohol is an all too common occurrence for those working a 12-step program. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter how much sober time someone has, how many sponsees they work with, or how bad things were before the recovering addict got sober. Alcohol and drug addiction is a tricky, alluring problem that can weasel back into someone’s life when they are least expecting it. More often than not, many addicts who have relapsed don’t understand how or why it happened. Their lives may be going well in so many areas, but somehow, they made a conscious choice to go back to that drink or drug.

There are several causes for relapses, and all of them center on the addict or alcoholic becoming too comfortable in their sobriety. Many times, the addict is tricked into thinking they don’t really have a problem since they were able to stay sober for so long. They begin a program of self-reliance rather than a program of a higher power and community, the former usually leading to relapse.

Regardless of the reasons for relapsing, there is no reason for the recovering addict or alcoholic to wallow in self-pity or despair. While a relapse is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, it does not need to be the end of the world. In fact, many lessons can be learned from a relapse so it doesn’t happen again. These lessons can be turned into steps and tips to prevent future triggers that cause relapses. Here are three quick tips on starting over and learning from this experience.

Tip #1: Be honest with everyone about what happened. Sometimes recovering addicts have been sober for 30 years and have sponsees that they work with everyday. They are someone to look up to in the AA community, someone who is always sought after for advice. It can be embarrassing for this type of addict to admit to people around them that they have suffered a relapse. However, it is imperative that they be honest.

Though the addict may feel like they are letting other people down by their relapse, their story can be an inspiration to another recovering addict or alcoholic. That person may need to hear what caused the relapse and why so they can make sure to watch out for future triggers themselves. Others are humbled by another person’s honesty and vulnerability. The relapse story can be a powerful one to many people.

Tip #2: Stop drinking and using drugs quickly. The worst thing you can do after relapsing is to spend one more day indulging in any type of substance. A few days of drinking or drug use will not harm your cognitive functions as much as weeks and months can. According to Choose Help, “a week or two of heavy use will as good as bring you back to recovery day one-bringing you right back to the highest risk phase for yet another relapse, no matter how many successful days of sobriety you had accrued prior to your setback.” In other words, the longer you go using drugs and alcohol, the harder it will be to start over.

In order to prevent further drinking and drug use, get to a meeting immediately that day. Call your sponsor or other people in your support system and be honest about what happened (see Point #1). Everyone is there to help you, not to criticize you or ostracize you. If necessary, check yourself into a rehab center so you can be safe from temptation. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that this “slip” is just a slip and not a full-blown, long-term relapse that gets out of control.

Tip #3: Figure out the root causes for your relapse. Sit down with your sponsor and figure out why you relapsed. Did you stop going to meetings? Did you become too comfortable in sobriety? According to, some of the most important causes of relapse are the people surrounding you, distractions from working a program in everyday life, a traumatic or disturbing event that happened, boredom, etc.

Sit down with someone you trust and take an honest look at yourself and what’s going on. Maybe you have been isolating, or internalizing painful feelings, or you haven’t dealt properly with something going on in your past. Whatever it is, work with a sponsor, counselor, or psychologist to address the root cause of your relapse so you can learn from the experience.

Relapse is a make or break moment for the recovering addict. Relapse is scary because it puts a fork in the road. If you go one direction, you can learn from the experience, grow from it, stop the negative behavior, and make it an important part of your story that you don’t want to repeat. If you take the other path in the road, it can lead to destruction, death, jail, or even suicide in some cases. That’s why it’s critical for the recovering addict to use these three steps so they can take the correct path in the road. There is hope and recovery after relapse, but the choice is the addict’s to make.

Are you or someone you know struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol? Contact Footprints Behavioral Health at 949-558-4723 and speak to one of our certified treatment counselors, Linda Rose. Start planning your road map to recovery today.