What is a Drug Relapse?

An alcohol or drug relapse is the recurrence of any disease that has gone into remission or recovery. As a chronic disease, addiction is subject to periods of relapse. During the recovery process, you may become exposed to certain triggers and other risk factors that increase your risk of returning to substance abuse.

While relapses are common, they are not inevitable. Following steps of drug relapse prevention and taking action early on can minimize the intensity of a relapse period and can reduce your risk for further hardship from substance abuse.

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The Alcohol or Drug Relapse Cycle

A relapse is a downward spiral into compulsive behavior and addiction. A relapse does not occur suddenly. There are warning signs and other identifiable factors that typically appear early on. Learning how to identify these signs can help you prevent a relapse.

Signs of a drug relapse can be broken down into three stages:

  • Emotional Relapse
  • Mental Relapse
  • Physical Relapse

It is not uncommon for the return to substance abuse to develop weeks or even several months after the initial signs of emotional relapse. This means there is generally plenty of time prior to the return to substance abuse for warning signs to be identified and for relapse to be addressed.

Signs of Drug Relapse

Relapse is a long and often painful process. Many people attribute the breaking of abstinence as a relapse. While substance use and abuse is a contributing factor of relapse, it is not the entire issue.

In addition to substance abuse, signs of drug relapse will involve:

  • Destructive Thoughts
  • Compulsive Behavior
  • Neglect of Coping Skills and Healthy Habits
  • Return to Unhealthy Behaviors and Environments
  • Mood Swings
  • Recurrence of Depression or Anxiety
  • Isolation from Groups and Activities

Many people think that as long as they are free from their former addictive substance they are not in danger of a relapse. However, it is not uncommon for the re-introduction of substance abuse to develop late in the relapse process.

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Ready to get help? Take the first step towards a sober life by requesting a call from our experts today!

Behavioral Slips

There are situations in which a person is exposed to an addictive substance and may even use that substance while in recovery. While doing so increases your risk of experiencing a relapse, it does not necessitate one.

The term “slip” is used to refer to behavioral mistakes or lapses in judgment in which an addictive substance is used in an isolated instance. The thought of lost sobriety often propels people into further destructive behavior, and this may lead to a relapse.

When this happens, it is best to:

  • Focus more on the recovery process
  • Evaluate what might have led to the slip-up
  • Make an effort to prevent future recurrences


A relapse does not un-do previous progress made in an addiction recovery program. The coping mechanisms and strategies you learned during a recovery program will still apply as you overcome a relapse. Try to remain conscious of your emotions, moods, and behavior throughout the recovery process to reduce your risk of experiencing a full relapse.

Are you or a loved one showing signs of drug relapse? Help is only a phone call away. Please call, we are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 844-326-4514