What to Do After a Relapse: Should You Go Back to Rehab?

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Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction can be challenging, and your recovery journey may not always follow a straight path. Most people in recovery from addiction experience at least one relapse, meaning that they return to using substances after a period of sobriety.

A relapse can feel like a major setback. You may be frustrated, angry, or feel like the situation is hopeless. But the truth is that a relapse can actually let you know where you need more support and treatment–and it can help you make a better plan that will help you achieve your goals.

Many people wonder what they can do after a relapse and whether or not they need to go back to rehab. Each relapse is different, just like every person’s experiences are different. It’s important to take steps to get back on track after a relapse and understand what led to it in the first place.

This guide will give you steps to take after a relapse. Following these steps can help you get your recovery back on track and give you the tools to stay committed to sobriety in the future.

Reach out to the caring specialists at New Jersey Addiction Interventions now to learn about our high-quality, comprehensive treatment programs or to find support at any stage of your recovery journey.

What is a Relapse?

A relapse means returning to substance use after a period of sobriety. Many factors can contribute to a relapse, including:

  • Stress
  • Peer pressure
  • Cravings
  • Overwhelming or intense emotions
  • Denial
  • Boredom

A relapse usually happens in stages. People may first experience an emotional relapse where they experience uncomfortable feelings, such as stress, boredom, anxiety, or sadness. People in the midst of an emotional relapse may stop using healthy coping strategies. They may skip therapy and medical appointments, neglect responsibilities, and become isolated.

After an emotional relapse, people can slip into a mental relapse, where they begin to wonder if they could use substances again. They may reason with themselves that they’ve quit once and could do it again or begin to plan how and when they’d use drugs or alcohol.

Finally, people may physically relapse–meaning they obtain and use addictive substances again.

Recognizing the stages of a relapse can help you identify when it’s happening and seek treatment or support before experiencing a physical relapse.

What Should I Do After a Relapse?

Many people feel like a relapse is a failure or a sign that meaningful recovery is impossible for them. People may feel like they’ve let their loved ones down or that they simply don’t have what it takes to stay sober for the long run.

While anger, hopelessness, and guilt are common after a relapse, they are not a sign that it’s time to give up. A relapse can be a sign that you need more support, treatment, or education–not a sign to stop trying.

Here are some steps you can take to get your recovery back on track after a relapse.

Acknowledge it

The first step you should take is to acknowledge that you have had a relapse. Avoid blame or judgment by remembering that most people have at least one relapse during recovery and that it is not the end of your progress.

Ask for support

A relapse can feel lonely, but you do not have to work through this alone. Remember that relapses are common during recovery. Reach out to a substance abuse counselor, therapist, or a trusted loved one. Simply talking about your relapse can relieve some of the frustration, guilt, or anxiety you’re carrying.

Understand it

Think about why the relapse happened. What was going on before the relapse occurred? What feelings were you having? What had changed in your life? Exploring and understanding the situations or feelings that triggered the relapse can help you prevent another one from happening.

Reassess your recovery plan

Work with a therapist, addiction counselor, or medical professional to reevaluate your recovery plan. Do you need to go to therapy more often? Do you need to develop more or other coping skills to manage stress? Assess what is working and where you may need more support.

Recommit to sobriety

Keep in mind that lifelong sobriety is your ultimate goal, and recommit to the journey. By treating a relapse as an obstacle–rather than a roadblock–you can recommit to sobriety and get the help you need to stay on track in the future.

Should You Go Back to Rehab After a Relapse?

Many people wonder if they need to return to rehab after a relapse. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.

For some, returning to rehab after a relapse is crucial. People who experience multiple relapses or who feel ambivalent about sobriety may require significant treatment and support to stay sober. Those who lack community support or face new, overwhelming challenges in recovery may also choose to spend more time in rehab to gain the skills they need to stay sober.

Rehab offers a structured, supportive environment and access to addiction, medical, and mental health specialists who can provide thoughtful care, treatment, and support at any stage of recovery.

People who experience a relapse may want to consider returning to rehab to reassess their needs, develop new skills, and be held accountable. There are many levels of care in addiction treatment, allowing people to find the level of support they need to work toward their goals.

Find Help Now

If you or someone you love needs addiction treatment or support after a relapse, the help you need is available at New Jersey Addiction Interventions. Reach out to our team now to learn about our comprehensive programs or to be connected to help at any stage of your recovery journey.

Medically Reviewed: January 10, 2024

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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