Relapse and Recovery

Relapse and Recovery

Published on April 2, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Recovery is more than simply choosing not to use. It is a way of living. It is a constant awareness of yourself and your world. In the beginning, when you have yet to make this awareness a habit, it can be very difficult and frustrating.

It can seem like you are always “on.” But over time, it gets easier. Like any habit, things become automatic.

You learn to do whatever it is you need to keep yourself sober through the moment. This is when a slip or a full-blown relapse can sneak up and surprise you.

As anyone in long term recovery knows, relapse can be a part of this process. Addiction is an insidious disease. It invades and changes every part of your life.

Finding those changes and addressing them is how you stay sober. It is time-consuming, and it is not like flipping a switch. You learn new skills and then have to learn when and how to apply them. This takes time and practice. Sometimes, the old habits sneak in. Sometimes, they simply overwhelm you. 


Reasons for Relapse

There are as many reasons for relapse as there are addicts. However, there are some things to keep an eye on. Boredom can be particularly dangerous.

Back when you were using, you probably filled the hours with drinking or using. So, now that you are sober, you have to find things to keep yourself busy.

Especially in the early days of sobriety, having nothing to do can be hard. Brains cannot sit idle. If you don’t keep them working on something specific, they will find something to do — and one of their favorite things to do is daydream.

Because of your addiction, your mind will likely wander into thoughts and memories of using, if you allow it to wander. Ripe ground for relapse.



Stress is part of living. There is good stress and there is bad stress. It is stressful to get that job you’ve always wanted, and it is also stressful to have too much to do, yet not enough time to do it.

Whether or not stress is good is actually irrelevant. Active addicts deal with stress in one way: they use. Recovering addicts develop ways of dealing with stress in healthier ways, such as exercise, writing, or other hobbies.

They build systems in their lives that reduce stress. They make stress reduction part of their lives so it doesn’t build to a crisis.

Addicts are people — and people are social creatures. Our bodies require interaction and friendship. Without it, people are more depressed; more stressed.

You are less likely to make good decisions when you are lonely. Spending too much time alone creates circumstances in which you might find yourself tempted to use. 



At the beginning of recovery, it is easy to find yourself isolated. It is advised to avoid hanging out with the people you have used with.

Unfortunately, many of the people you are left with might be wary of your company, such as family members or friends who were wounded while your addiction was active. This is understandable and part of recovery; but it is not easy.

With treatment, you will work on building a community of sobriety. Going to 12-Step meetings or support groups can reduce loneliness.

You will be able to surround yourself with people who are going through similar circumstances, and they can buttress you in those moments when sobriety is difficult.


Sensory Triggers

Some of the most difficult relapse triggers are sensory reminders. You cannot control the world. You might see or smell something that reminds you of using.

It can be someone lighting a cigarette on the street corner or something on the television. It can be the smell of alcohol or hearing something that reminds you of the reasons you started using in the first place. Our brains automatically build associations. They tie certain perceptions to certain memories. 

As part of your recovery, it is important to identify as many of these triggers as possible. Make a plan on how you’re going to deal with them.

The best way is to avoid the situation as much as possible. Stay away from the places you frequented as an active addict. Don’t go to the bar. Don’t visit that park.

Stay away from the place where you used to meet your dealer. Even with this diligence, you can still find yourself triggered out of the blue. Knowing ahead of time what you’re going to do will help keep you sober. The plan needs to be specific, and it needs to include removing yourself from the situation.

Find a safe space. Include anxiety-reducing activities like deep breathing or counting the change in your pocket. Some people carry a small kit containing calming items.

Relapse or near relapse situations are not abnormal experiences for those in recovery. Learning to deal with the desire to drink or use is imperative to achieving successful long-term sobriety.

Some of the ways one can safeguard themselves against a potential slip include finding those who are like-minded, dealing with triggering circumstances healthily, and managing stress levels. Know that this is a normal experience and the desire to drink or use will pass; happiness and success are right around the corner.

You do not have to live in fear of relapse. The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigma may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.

By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490. We can help ensure you have the tools necessary to maintain a healthy recovery.