Addiction Relapse 101

relapse 101

Relapse is often viewed as the result of a sudden impulse to drink or use but there are actually a series of warning signs that lead up to it. These warning signs can indicate when the risk of someone drinking alcohol or using drugs again is escalating and how close they are to relapsing.

Read on to find out how on track you are with your sobriety, whether you could be at risk, and what you can do to get back on track.


Relapse can be divided into three stages;

  • Emotional Relapse
  • Physical Relapse
  • Mental Relapse

Each of these three stages is accompanied by specific signs which makes them easier to recognize in yourself or a loved one.

alcohol relapse


At first, people are not actively considering a return to drugs or alcohol. The last time the person drank or used is still fresh enough in their mind that they remember the consequences and do not want to repeat it. However, their emotional state may be compromised and this can lead to behavioral warning signs such as:

  • Repressing and bottling up emotions
  • Self-isolating
  • Skipping therapy or meetings
  • Being unwilling to share in meetings
  • Poor nutrition and sleep habits

After a period of poor self-care, someone in recovery will likely experience some of the mental signs of relapse. They may begin to feel discontent with their progress and restless in their disintegrating routine. Without a proper structure and routine, a person is more likely to start thinking about using or drinking again.

A person may start making a list of pros and cons to try and rationalize using again. They will often be undecided about whether to return to old habits. Because mental relapse is all in a person’s mind, it can be difficult to detect although a general bad mood, lack of patience or state of preoccupation can be a giveaway. Realistically it is only the person in recovery that can recognize their own signs of mental relapse, including:

  • Cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Excessive thinking about people, places or things linked to former use
  • Glamorizing or minimizing the consequences of former use
  • Lying and bargaining
  • Coming up with ways to “control” future use
  • Looking for opportunities to use
  • Fantasizing about or planning for a relapse

drug addiction relapse


If a person does not effective coping skills or neglects to use them to their full potential, the likelihood of acting on their urges increases. The last stage of relapse is the one most people think of first — returning to the use of drugs or alcohol.

A relapse may consist of one single use followed by a realization of the mistake, while others may last any length of time.

When talking about relapse it is important to remember that entering any one of the 3 stages of relapse can be avoided by developing effective coping mechanisms for living sober. Many addicts and alcoholics started to drink and use because they lacked these tools, in which case they must be put in place in order to succeed in long term sobriety.


Avoiding triggers is an important part of the puzzle when it comes to addiction and recovery. However, it is also important to learn healthy coping mechanisms so that you can handle triggering situations when they inevitably arise.  Avoiding all of your triggers is an unlikely option, but encountering a trigger doesn’t necessarily have to result in a relapse.

Here are some recognised and recommended coping mechanisms.


Recovery does not have to be a journey that you take alone.  Make it a point to maintain a comprehensive support system.  This could include family, friends, sponsors or other members of your recovery community.  These should be people that you feel comfortable calling on if you encounter one of your triggers and need someone to talk to as a tool to help prevent picking up your substance of choice.

You do not have to talk to your support people in person.  Time is of the essence once you have experienced a triggering event, so send a text, WhatsApp message or Facetime until the urge to use or drink passes. Technology gives us the tools to stay connected to our support groups even if they’re not in the same time zone.



In today’s technology driven society, distraction is easy to come by.  If you encounter a trigger, take your mind off it by distracting yourself. Start with healthy options like taking a walk or going to the gym but if you are stuck indoors, try taking a hot (or cold) shower, call someone, pull up a video on YouTube, play a mobile game, read about something you are interested in, or undertake some household chores – whatever takes your mind away!

You might be worried that this distraction tactic might come across as rude if you’re out in public.  Don’t.  There’s nothing rude about taking care of yourself and avoiding triggers that could lead to a relapse.


Self-talk is a powerful tool and a valuable coping mechanism for when you encounter one of your triggers.  Instead of allowing the trigger to overcome you, talk to yourself logically.  Explain to yourself that you recognize the trigger, you’re taking steps to remove yourself from the situation and you won’t allow the trigger to have any power over you.

It sounds silly but sometimes that little bit of assurance — even if it’s coming from your own lips — can be enough to keep the trigger from causing problems.


Stress is a big trigger for a lot of people.  As soon as things start getting hard, it’s tempting to turn back to addiction.  Instead, learn how to practice relaxation, and how to be relaxed in any and every situation. Learning healthy ways to approach your stressors is more than just preventing it from triggering you — it can also help improve your overall physical and mental health by reducing the amount of stress you experience on a daily basis.

Keep in mind that while these are popular coping mechanisms, they might not work for everyone.  Take the time to figure out what works best for you as part of your personal recovery journey.

drug relapse


Relapse is not synonymous with failure. It helps to compare addiction relapse to relapse in other chronic conditions. A person with diabetes will often relapse due to poor eating behaviors, for example. If someone with diabetes relapses, they haven’t failed. They just have to reset, practice healthy eating again and get their blood sugar under control with the help of their doctor.

Addiction relapses are similar in that the individual needs to seek treatment to get back on track. To overcome withdrawal symptoms, most people need some form of detoxification or withdrawal management service. A long-term, severe relapse might require residential treatment such as our Inpatient Primary Program. People with prior experience in a treatment program, who have not had a long period of relapse, may do well with outpatient therapy. Whatever the course of treatment, it will involve the person identifying the reasons why they relapsed and learning what steps to take to prevent it in the future.

If you or someone you know relapses, the most important thing to do is ensure safety. Drug and alcohol tolerance may decrease in recovery, so someone who has been sober for months and uses the same amount of a substance they used before treatment may be at risk of overdose. If you suspect overdose is possible, call emergency services immediately. If the relapse does not seem life-threatening, talk to the individual about getting professional help. Contact us for an open and honest, no obligation conversation about your or your loved one’s circumstances.

happier living

Inpatient Care and Rehab

The Lighthouse Bali’s proven combination of an initial Primary Inpatient Program* followed by Outpatient Care and Ongoing Therapy has helped alcoholics and addicts from around the world get their lives back on track after a relapse. Through individually tailored treatment, professional therapy, and compassionate support, you will be given the tools you need to ensure the best possible chances of a long term recovery.

Concerns about detox often prevent people from seeking the help that they need. That’s why, at The Lighthouse Bali all treatment programs include a medical detox for those who require it. A medical detox is the safest and most comfortable way to detox from drugs and alcohol.

If you are worried about yourself or a loved one who is using prescription medication , we urge you to reach out and contact us in confidence. Our private programs are tailormade to suit individual needs and our doctorate level clinical staff have extensive experience in the field of addiction. If you are not currently in Bali but would like to begin a recovery program immediately, we are able to arrange entry visas for Bali on your behalf.

To talk to one of our team members, contact us on WhatsApp (+62 858-5731-3512) or by phone on the same number. Alternatively, send us an email and we will either answer your questions in writing or call you back, according to your preference – contact us.

We understand how difficult it can be to reach out for help but it’s the first step towards recovery and a happier, healthier way of living.

*1 The duration of Primary Inpatient Programs and Outpatient Care varies according to individual circumstances. Both Inpatient and Outpatient treatment is based around monthly (28 day) increments. As a general guideline we recommend between one to three months Primary Inpatient Programs, followed by one to two months Outpatient Care in Bali, and up to six months of ongoing therapy (by Zoom or Skype from home). The longer you stay in rehab, the better your chances of staying clean and sober when you return home.

Learn More


CREA 2023 Awards

The esteemed CREA Award is proudly presented to Dr. Julia A. Andre by the Brainz Magazine Selection Committee, acknowledging her remarkable contributions to the field of trauma therapy and mental health…

Read More »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *