It is well known and documented that a relapse starts way before the picking up of a drink, drug or resuming an addictive behaviour. The physical act of relapse is actually the end result of a whole sequence of events, both mentally and emotionally, for the person struggling. The circumstances that lead to the end result, have been present for a period of time before the physical “pick up” happens. Issues and circumstances are often not visible to anyone else but are very real and visible to the person experiencing them. Relapses don’t just happen. So what are the signs and how do you prevent them.

Catching The Little Thoughts

Well, that’s easy, you might say. However, being conscious of every thought we think is pretty difficult. Probably impossible. However, for people in recovery, it’s important to recognize a pattern of thinking before it becomes a pattern of doing. You may notice a fleeting thought like – I’d love a drink – and then it disappears. Those small thoughts can grow into more detailed thoughts like – I’d love a drink at my favorite bar. As time goes on those thoughts take on a life of their own and become a whole story that entices you to that bar. This is just an example that applies to all addictive behavior.  If you have stressful situations happening in your life, which we all do, those thoughts can become even more powerful. Our need for escapism from daily life leads us back to a destructive path. This is why it is so important to talk about your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. That can be sharing in your 12 step group, your therapist or whatever recovery process you have adopted. Never underestimate the power of your thoughts! Get them out of your head and allow someone else to help you work through them.

Speaking of Stress….

It’s the top cause of relapse and those who struggle with substance use disorder, use substances as a way to cope with the fallout from stress. It is so important to find tools to prevent stress and to deal with the symptoms of stress when they happen. Again, talking to someone you trust can be lifesaving. It’s helpful to remember that relapses don’t just happen and that they are preventable provides some hope. Developing a routine with self-care aspects incorporated can be a way to prevent stress from taking you over. Making things like meditation, exercise, and healthy eating part of your daily schedule reduces your chances of becoming overwhelmed. Finding a therapist and/or life coach and scheduling regular sessions can also be a great tool to help you organize your emotions and daily routine.

Understanding Your Emotions and Triggers

Emotional turmoil is something many people in recovery are well versed in. Along with stress, whirling emotion is up there when a potential relapse is imminent. Unfortunately, due to the chaotic nature of our lives, there is probably a lot of emotion tagging along too. The tricky thing about emotion, in my personal experience, is that we don’t always know where the emotion is coming from. You may find yourself having a very low day, perhaps with tears and tantrums, and no obvious reason for it. It’s true that emotion gets stuck in our bodies, so emotion can arise seemingly out of nowhere. The trick I learned about unexpected emotion, is not to focus on the whys. Instead, focus on the right now understanding that this could be a delayed reaction to something from your past which is now ready to surface. In those moments you need to practice self-compassion and understanding. Again reaching out to a trusted confidant, a partner and reaching for your self-care tools are vital.

No matter how long we are in recovery life happens, emotions arise and stressful situations occur. The point being, relapse does not have to be part of your recovery. If it is, then there is always an opportunity to deal with triggers and emotional upheaval in a new way. Relapses don’t just happen and it does not have to happen to you.


Nicola is our Blog and Article Editor at Her work has been published internationally in many recovery publications and poetry books. She is a qualified Reflexologist, Masseuse and Life Coach. She has created content for for 7 years. She was Editor at She is also an author at The Girl God books. She has lived with type 1 diabetes since she was 7 years old.


  1. Mary Ellen Elevario Reply

    Today, I’m grateful for people like you’ll n want what you’ll have cuz I’m so tired of living in this insanity n I’m loosing my self n believing that this is all I get cuz the 3 most important people in my life don’t want nothing to do with me life doesn’t matter,then in the back or should I say my inner man start to whisper your strong you can get thru this for me,but I’m all alone,negleted,abandon by a man I truly love having to start all there hope for me been in my addition for 32yrs. 9 full speed minus 9monthes n I haang on to it as if it’s life.its the only thing I know but want more something different,healthyn my kids back in my life plz God help take away this desire of feeling I need meth to live or cope Mary Elevario

  2. Sonya Abela Reply

    Tjah heel ontroerend voel mij heel aangesproken,door de ervaringen heen😢
    Heel erg vindt ik dit,het gebeurt dagelijks.
    Maar de miserie 🙇‍♀️stres en alles wat een mens moet verwerken,
    zonder hulp.
    Dat is zwaar om te dragen,de lange wacht rijen voor een therapeut,is enorm.
    Daarmee alle gevolgen van dien,grijpt men naar drugs, drank enz…🙈🤷‍♀️
    Voor iedere terugval ,blijft vechten👊Kop op🤞

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