Recovering from relapse: The 7 R’s

What is the best way to get back on track with recovery after a relapse? Addictions therapist Beth Burgess shares the 7 vital steps to recovering from relapse – and coming back even stronger.

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By Beth Burgess

The “7 R’s” of Recovering from Relapse

When you’re trying to recover from alcoholism or drug addiction, relapsing is often part of the process. The reasons why relapse occurs can vary. While relapse may not be desirable, it is understandable. After all, many addicts have spent years devoted to their addiction, and not so long learning how to recover.

Using drink or drugs again does not have to be the end of the world, if you know how to how to get back on track quickly. You can use your experience of relapse as a springboard to an even more successful recovery, by using the 7 “R’s.” Read on for more here. Then, we invite your questions about relapse or practical relapse prevention strategies at the end.

1. Regroup

If you’ve relapsed, you may be tempted to curse at yourself, call yourself names, or tell yourself stories, like “I can’t do this after all.” These are things that will get you headed straight back on the path to addiction.

Guilt, shame, and beating yourself up will only wear down your resilience — no-one can cope with such bullying for very long. Above all, it’s time to regroup, not to attack yourself. A mistake does not mean you are destined to fail for the rest of your life. It’s just a sign that more needs to be learnt, and done, to make your recovery stronger.

Speak to yourself kindly and supportively, as you might do to a friend who had just relapsed or undergone some difficulty. Tell yourself “I am strong enough to come through this” or “I have got clean and sober before, and I can do it again.” Have faith that things will come good again, if you do the right things.

2. Reach Out

As much as you may feel embarrassed and ashamed about relapsing, now is not the time to hide away feeling sorry for yourself — or getting deeper into your addiction.

People who relapse can remain stuck in their addiction for some time, because they feel too guilty to admit the truth and ask for more help. But reaching out to others is vital at this stage, because becoming isolated or dwelling in shame will only make another relapse more likely.

It is important to reach out to the right people to get back on track with your recovery. Gather sober, understanding people around you, go to a fellowship group for more support, or visit a professional who specialises in addiction recovery.

3. Recommit to Recovery

Make yourself a sincere promise that you will go to any lengths to get your recovery back on track, so that you can use your relapse as a source of strength rather than a black mark on your sobriety.

Make a list of all the great things you enjoyed about your life clean and sober, whether that was having a clearer head, gaining back your self-respect, or making others proud of you. Make a list of all the things you truly hate about drinking and drugging, from the cash you have to spend on it, to the fact that a substance is effectively taking charge of your life.

Decide right now that whatever work is involved to recover from your relapse and gain back your freedom is absolutely worth it.

4. Realise Where You Went Wrong

The wonderful thing about making mistakes is that you can learn from them. Human beings are learning machines, and failure is often our greatest teacher. If you know what caused you to relapse on drink or drugs, you’ll know what needs addressing to make your recovery stronger.

There will always be a reason that your addiction reared its head again. Make a flow chart of how your relapse happened, identifying all the events leading up to it. Look at how your emotions and behaviours may have led to picking up a drink or drugs again.

You may notice that an outside event caused you stress and difficulty, precipitating a relapse, but actually it was never the event itself that caused you to return to your addiction; it would have been your reaction to an event. A relationship breakdown, job loss or bereavement does not force a drink or drug into your hand. Negative thinking and unhelpful coping strategies for dealing with stress are the real things that cause relapse.

5. Redouble Your Efforts

Failing to plan is like planning to fail. Make a realistic and healthy plan for how you would cope with whatever triggered your relapse, if something similar happened again. Should you have a relapse prevention plan? Absolutely. It is really important that you give this some serious thought.

Don’t make a plan which relies too much on other people to save you — you must learn to rely on your own internal resources, too, so that you are equipped to deal with any, and all, triggers in life. The only thing that is permanent in your life is you, so you need to be able to deal with problems alone.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t seek support from others. In fact, that’s a great thing to do. But if you’re away from your support group, or it’s 4am, and the drink or drugs are calling, you need to be in a position to fend off a relapse as well.

6. Reach for More Resources

If you don’t think that you do have to ability to go it alone when faced with problems that may challenge your sobriety, then it’s time to pick up more tools to help you cope with life.

Learn some more about how to develop healthy thinking and resilience. Read some new books, grab some more tools, and begin to grow again. Try some things you never considered before that might be a good fit to make your recovery stronger.

Some people in recovery swear by yoga, mindfulness, or other meditation. Some use creativity to express their pain better, by writing, drawing or painting. Others turn to therapeutic tools to learn how to live happily and healthily.

7. Redirect your Recovery

Some people are baffled about why they relapsed, thinking that they were doing everything right. If it seems to you that your relapse came out of the blue, then maybe it’s time to redirect your recovery, and your life.

If healthy thinking and a positive attitude could not protect you from relapsing, then you may have reached an “impasse” in recovery, meaning that it’s time to take it to the next level. You need to start doing things that really fulfil you, and that match up with your greater values.

Understanding the purpose of your life, and how you fit into the world can help prevent another relapse. Seeking out spiritual tools can do wonders for your individual development. When your life has a greater meaning, and you understand how the world works with you in it, your recovery can reach new strengths.


About the Author: Beth Burgess is a solution-focused therapist and coach specialising in addiction recovery. She is the author of two books on addiction: “The Recovery Formula: An Addict’s Guide to getting Clean and Sober Forever” and “The Happy Addict: How to be Happy in Recovery from Alcoholism or Drug Addiction.” Beth specialises in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness, Recovery Coaching, and NLP — and works with clients privately in London, and internationally via Skype.
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Hey, Beth, I love the flow chart idea. I am going to use this with my patients at PAC NYC. great idea to fully understand a personal relapse process. Thanks. Johnny

  2. I found Ms Burgess’ 7 advisements above spot-on and most especially due to encouraging self love and forgiveness. I’ve not found the rooms , many people I’ve known for 25 years, very soothing. Some folks I didn’t know as well but who had 25+years themselves, retreated as if I was contagious.
    I reimmersed myself went thru 28day program (hadn’t needed that back in late 80’s when orig got sober), afterwards did 90 in 90 twice, sponsors , 4 6mo. meeting commitments…it didn’t seem to encourage support from others. Hence self love.

    That’s the muscle I’ve been unwittingly ‘coerced’ into relying upon as result of picking up a drink with 22 years sober.
    With 22 years, equipped with well-worn leather-encased reliable set of tools, I let myself get deeply affected by the lack of response to my repeated shouts and concrete acts of concern re dire status of 2 starved, neglected children under care of intermittently abusive drug adelled adults. It just felt so crazy…the fact that I despite my best efforts, I could not effect the concern of agencies and def not any of my other siblings. I skipped telling my parents 79+years old and spouse fighting dying from esophageal cancer.

    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.


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