Relapsing after a period of sobriety can cause immense feelings of guilt, shame, and anger. Like many others who experience a relapse, you may also feel as though you have failed.

Though relapsing can be devastating, it is entirely normal, so much so that it is often considered part of the recovery process. This is not to say that relapse is guaranteed or recommended, but it is a hurdle that can be overcome with appropriate help and support.

Experiencing pessimistic thoughts and feelings, such as thinking you are a failure, is extremely destructive. It is also untrue. Remember to treat yourself as you would treat a friend and accept that sobriety is a significant challenge no matter who you are.

What Can Cause a Relapse?

Often, you might begin heading towards a relapse well before you physically use drugs or alcohol. Certain feelings, events, or thoughts may start seeping into your mind, slowly triggering cravings.

Understanding the causes of relapse is useful in preventing it from happening again as it will enable you to avoid certain things and notice the warning signs before it happens.

Although relapses occur for various reasons, we have shared some common causes below.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers are one of the leading causes of relapse. Visiting a place, seeing an object, or smelling a scent you once associated with using drugs or alcohol can put you in a vulnerable position.

Social Triggers

In the same way that your environment can be a catalyst for using drugs or alcohol again, coming into contact with people and social groups, such as friends you used with or a drug dealer, can trigger cravings. Although it can be very tough, removing these people from your life will help you stay on track during recovery.


Due to the escapism and calming effects drugs and alcohol can have, it is natural to want to turn to them during times of stress. However, remember that they will only reduce the stress temporarily and will ultimately cause you harm.


Feeling isolated is another cause of relapse. This is because spending too much time alone and without a social support system can enable your thoughts and cravings to spiral.


Celebrations such as birthdays or holidays can additionally cause relapse. Being in a social setting that may involve drugs or alcohol can be dangerous as you may feel peer pressure to have a sip of a drink or recreationally use a drug.

Positive Emotions

Unbeknown to many, positive emotions such as feeling happy or excited can also be a cause for using again. You may feel confident you can handle one drink, but this can be a slippery slope to a full-on binge.

How Do I Get Back on Track?

Having experienced a relapse, you will likely want to understand how you can get back on track and find your feet again as soon as possible. This is not uncommon, and many others who experience a relapse will aim to do the same.

Coming back from relapse is by no means easy. However, we have outlined several ways to get back on track below.

Examine the Reasons for Your Relapse

Like many others, you may feel confused and unable to explain the cause of your relapse. However, relapses are almost always triggered. For this reason, we would encourage you to take some time to reflect on your feelings and explore the context of your relapse.

  • Consider asking yourself the following questions:
  • Were you in a location you associate with drugs or alcohol?
  • Were you stressed?
  • Were you peer pressured?

By asking yourself these questions and engaging in self-reflection, you will have the opportunity to identify the cause of your relapse and prevent relapse from occurring in the future.

Create a Social Support System

Creating a social support system is vital in recovery. However, doing so is often easier said than done. A great way of creating a support system is by attending a 12-step meeting.

Attending a 12-step meeting can help you feel connected, supported, and encouraged by others who are also progressing through recovery. It will also help you feel less alone, which will equip you with better mental protection against relapse.

Stress Management

Stress is one of the most common causes of relapse. For this very reason, try a healthy and healing approach such as mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and managing your time effectively instead of using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress.

Listening to music and dancing are also fun ways of relaxing.

Consider It As a Stepping Stone, Rather Than Setback

Upon relapse, it is entirely normal for you to think that you have ruined your sobriety and experienced a setback. However, we would encourage you not to think of your relapse in this way. Instead, think of it as a part of the process and one you can learn from.

Talk to Someone About It

Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to open up and talk to a friend or family member. Sharing how you feel with someone you trust will help you get helpful feedback, better understand yourself, and feel supported.

Take It One Step at a Time

Be gentle with yourself and take it at a pace that feels sustainable. Follow your recovery plan and begin incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine. This could be taking a short walk, visiting a friend, cooking a healthy meal – anything that you can manage that will start to get you back on track.

Most importantly, don’t give up. Relapse is not due to weak willpower or failure; it is prevalent.