5 Lessons to be Learned from Relapse

Relapse is complicated. Whether it happens soon after you first achieve sobriety or years into recovery, it can be a devastating experience. Research into shame and guilt surrounding addiction, however, tells us that beating ourselves up after a slip-up is detrimental to our recovery and increases the likelihood of future relapse. Instead, it is important to brush yourself off and determine what there is to learn from your relapse before moving forward. No matter how many times you have relapsed, with the right tools and support, your next shot at sobriety might just be the one that sticks. Here are some of the most important lessons to take away from relapse:

Relapse is Normal

Relapse is extremely common in recovery. This is not to say that relapse is necessary, and many people become sober without ever relapsing. For those that do, however, it can be comforting to know that you are not alone, and many people who struggle with addiction relapse once or multiple times before finding lasting recovery. Relapse may happen because problems and stressors arise in your life and you have not yet developed the tools needed to cope, but many times relapse occurs when all seems to be going well. People in early sobriety often experience a honeymoon period in which they can feel nearly invincible in their freedom from addiction. This false sense of security can lead to relapse by causing us to let our guards down and allow thoughts of “just having one” to creep in.  

You are Not a Failure

Relapsing can feel like the biggest letdown to yourself and others. Addiction on its own can sometimes feel like a moral failing, and when relapse occurs it becomes even easier to believe that you are a bad or unworthy person. The truth is that you simply haven’t been given all the tools you need to succeed.  Imagine being told to build a house with wood and nails, but no hammer. You may be able to get a bit accomplished with an immense amount of effort, but eventually, you will have to give up because you don’t have the tools necessary to complete your goal. After relapsing, it is time to assess what tools you are using to maintain your sobriety and determine how you can seek help with acquiring the right strategy for success.

All Your Work Wasn’t for Nothing

Many times, when people in addiction recovery relapse, they believe that all the progress they have made up until that point no longer counts. This way of thinking is yet another way of putting yourself down and discrediting all your hard work. Even after relapse, every day that you stayed sober was a victory on its own, and you should feel proud of what you have accomplished up until this point. Whether you were sober for a week or three years, you undoubtedly learned a great deal during your time in sobriety. You may have discovered what lifestyle changes encourage your sobriety and what triggers to avoid going forward. Once you have brushed yourself off after relapse, take the time to consider your sobriety by writing down what worked for you and what didn’t, and make the necessary changes in order to move forward.

A Reminder of Why You Want To Be Sober

Relapse can last for one day, a couple of months, or even years, depending on the severity of your fall off the wagon. No matter the length of your slip up, when it is over you are likely going to have to face all the repercussions of substance abuse that led you into recovery in the first place. You may have hurt those you love, failed to show up to work, or created some other sort of wreckage- even a short relapse may have serious consequences. While dealing with the effects of your relapse can be incredibly stressful in the days and weeks that follow as you attempt to put the pieces of your life back together, it can also be a great reminder of why a sober lifestyle is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Instead of allowing relapse to make you feel hopeless and defeated, you can use the experience to renew your motivation and avoid slip-ups in the future. You now know for certain that a sober life is a better life, and you can focus all your energy on success this time around without feeling like you may be missing out.

You can Help Others

Experiencing relapse provides you with the wisdom you need to help others in recovery. While you should prioritize your own sobriety above all when you are in the beginning stages of recovery, once you have a good amount of sober time under your belt, you can use your experience with relapse to advise others on what they should avoid. It can be incredibly inspiring to hear a firsthand account of relapse recovery and eventual success as proof that a sober lifestyle means a happier, more fulfilling life.



If you have experienced relapse, you are not alone. Now is the time to renew your commitment to your sobriety and seek help in gaining the tools you need to succeed. At Burning Tree, we know addiction treatment is not one-size-fits-all, and everyone is fighting a unique battle. We specialize in treating clients with a history of relapse, employing a wide range of successful techniques and methodologies in a compassionate environment. Here you will find a culture of honesty and accountability in which you will learn a new way to live, and ultimately foster a lifetime of sobriety and wellness. For more information, call us now at 866-287-2877.


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