After a drug or alcohol slip up

Don’t wallow! Get your life back on track after a slip up. Here, we present a concrete plan of action to catch yourself before you fall too far.

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After You Slip: What to Do to Get Back on Track

Sometimes it’s less important to beat yourself up about WHY relapse occurs, and it’s more important to get back on track in your recovery. Relapse can happen, but it doesn’t have to derail your entire life. When you slip, it’s possible to catch yourself before you fall too far if you follow this plan of action as soon as possible. We invite your questions, feedback, or experiences about different ways to prevent relapse in the comments sections at the end.

You can recover after a slip up

Relapse does not have to be a part of recovery, but sometimes it is. No matter how long you’ve been in recovery, relapse is still a real danger. It’s important for us to remember, however, that relapse – as long as it’s not a fatal one – can be overcome if you take the right steps to correct your mistake as soon as possible.

As long as you’re being honest with yourself and working a recovery program, you can catch the warning signs of relapse well before you pick up again. Relapse is a process that starts when negative thoughts or behaviors aren’t addressed, and it culminates in using drugs or alcohol again. If you don’t catch yourself before you slip up and use, you can still follow this action plan that will get you back on track.

What to do after a slip up

1. Face reality.

First, admit to yourself that you’ve slipped. Honesty and acceptance are essential. You must be willing to admit to yourself that you made a mistake, and you must accept that you slipped and need help. If you’re in denial about your slip or deny the potential consequences, you’re putting yourself at risk of a longer relapse.

2. Share it with someone.

Second, admit to someone else that you’ve slipped. Don’t try to deal with your slip by yourself. When you relapse, it’s time to lean on your support system. Remember that your loved ones (friends, family, sponsor, doctor, etc.) want to help you, not judge you. Keeping your slip to yourself is a dangerous idea.

3. Take it a day at a time.

Third, make a 24-hour commitment to stay sober. The popular Alcoholics Anonymous saying “one day at a time” is particularly helpful after a slip. When you’re struggling, it can really lighten your load if you just focus on the next 24 hours. Pledge not to pick up again for one day, and after you succeed, repeat.

4. Reconnect.

Fourth, reconnect to your recovery. Meditation, prayer, reading recovery-related texts, or attending a meeting or a counseling session are some of the things you can do to reconnect to your recovery. You need to remind yourself why you’re sober and remember why recovery is so much more desirable than addiction.

5. Forgive.

Fifth, forgive yourself. It’s crucial to forgive yourself for slipping. Holding onto the guilt or shame you feel is putting yourself at risk for further relapse. Remember that a slip doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You can start back up again right where you left off in recovery, and you still have all of the tools and knowledge you’ve acquired.

6. Learn from your experience.

Sixth, analyze your slip. Once you’re back on the recovery wagon, you need to analyze your slip and why it happened. What negative thoughts and actions lead to your relapse? What changes can you make so you don’t end up slipping again? If you want to avoid another relapse, you need to make whatever the necessary positive changes are.

About the author
Lisa Hann is a freelance writer and author of the books How to Have Fun in Recovery and 365 Ways to Have Fun Sober. She has a B.A. in Journalism from Temple University. She has been sober since 2010 and resides in NJ with her son.


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  1. Please help. . . from the Jamestown, NY area. Was sober for almost 71/2 yrs., slipped on 4/15/17, Easter Eve. My in-law’s were visiting. I am ashamed to say that I find it so uncomfortable when they’re here. I strongly feel that I don’t matter as much as my husband and grandchildren. Maybe this is how it is in a marriage, I was not aware of this until in the midst of it. How nieve of me.
    I am having a very hard time lately with my husband’s honesty with his health. He has diabetes, had a massive heart attack 5yrs ago (flat lined for 9 min), continues to smoke approx. a pack a day, doesn’t try to eat correctly but will tell me that he does. I am feeling so much pain, fear, mixed feelings.
    I started developing a drinking problem when my Dad was living with us (10 yrs) and witnessed how my husband interacted with him. He treated him like he was stupid, talked to him in an authoritive way, was rude to him. I thought it would be probably best to put my father in a place where he wouldn’t have to put up this. My Dad did not like this idea, he wanted to stay with me rather than in a facility. He told me a few times, that he thought that there was something wrong with Jim with the way he was acting. Yes, I believe that Jim had a recentment towards my Dad. We were next door neighbors and his and my parents had a disagreement over something stupid. I would have never married if I had known that he had such a resentment towards my Dad. Honestly, I carry a resentment towards his Mom & Dad because they behave like they are always right with everything and if anyone has a difference of opinion, your looked down upon.
    Yes, I do have an insecurity here, feel alone because I don’t know how to cope with this except to keep it inside. I am seeing a councelor for anxiety and major depression, not sure if I am progressing as fast as I would like to be. Back to this slipping, I am hiding it from Jim and our kid’s, feel to ashamed, they would not understand and look down upon me.

    1. Hi Debbie. Call a toll-free Alcohol Helpline on 1-888-675-1820 to find a high-quality alcohol addiction treatment program. This helpline is accessible 24/7 and gives you the chance to speak with trusted treatment consultants who can help you find an alcohol recovery program suited to your individual needs.

  2. Thank you so much for your comments, DJ Mac and Wes Copp. I completely agree. Wes, great points. It brings to mind the fact that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to clean time. While slips aren’t good, they still don’t erase everything a person has learned and all the ways they’ve grown in recovery up until that point.

  3. One thing that people in the 12 Step Recovery process may be apprehensive about in a misstep or relapse is the perceived stigma that “losing clean time” results when you discuss your slip in a 12 Step Recovery group setting. One should not allow this perception to interfere with the progress they have made in their recovery.
    I have seen some folks in recovery who slip up and then often have a sense of shame so strong that instead of jumping back on track and going to their next meeting, isolate themselves from the recovery family. This can happen due to a perception that by having a slip up is equivalent to losing the months or years of clean time they have achieved.
    That is simply not the case. One does not lose two years or 20 years of clean time by temporarily succumbing to the addictive gene they fought so hard to overcome. I don’t believe for a minute that any of the folks at these meetings who claim to have 5, 10 or 25 years of sobriety have not had slip ups.
    Always know that you have not “lost” your 2 months or 2 years or 20 years of clean time. All that happened is that you missed a day or so. Do not be ashamed of your slip ups. Slip ups are often a part of recovery and in fact experience suggests that an occasional slip up, though not ideal, may often reinforce the reasons why you chose to live and enjoy a sober life.
    Your 12 Step group will always be there to support you and know all to well about the feelings of shame. Embrace them and let them help you especially in the face of a relapse.

    Wes Copp

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