Recovery is possible. We are open 24/7. 866-797-7962

Do I Have to Go Back to Rehab if I Relapse?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Substance use disorders are complex and progressive diseases that require constant dedication and hard work to maintain lifelong recovery. Unfortunately, many people believe the misconception that attending an addiction treatment program will cure their substance use disorder. While treatment is necessary to overcome addiction, you must continue to practice your recovery maintenance techniques outside of treatment.

Because addiction is chronic, many people suffer from relapses. Addiction relapse occurs when you were sober from drugs or alcohol for a period and then returned to substance abuse. While a relapse can be disheartening, you must remember that it is a common occurrence for many recovering addicts.

Knowing what to do after a relapse can be difficult, especially if you have never been through one before. Because relapsing can be dangerous, you should always consider returning to a rehab program where you can receive the help you need. But do you always need to go back to rehab if you relapse? Everyone’s situation is different, but if you want to achieve long-term recovery, returning to rehab and getting to the root of your relapse will help you prevent another relapse in the future.

What is an Addiction Relapse?

Drug and alcohol relapse occurs when you begin abusing substances after experiencing a period of intentional abstinence. If you suffer from a relapse, it’s for one of two reasons. Either you did not receive the effective principles of addiction treatment or you stopped practicing your recovery maintenance techniques. Regardless, relapse means you are missing some of the tools you need to maintain long-term recovery, causing you to experience an addiction relapse.

The best way to prevent relapse is to get help for your addiction from a licensed drug and alcohol rehab facility. Effective, personalized treatment can help you discover the root cause of your substance abuse and develop the skills you need to remain sober.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), effective drug addiction treatment includes:[1]

  • Reducing the use of the primary drug, drugs, or alcohol.
  • Improving the patient’s educational situation, if needed.
  • Increasing positive relationships with family, friends, employers, and other associates.
  • Improving the person’s legal situation as needed.
  • Treating and managing the patient’s mental health condition.
  • Increasing employment status or prospects of the patient.
  • Improving the patient’s medical condition and overall health.
  • Reducing the person’s noncriminal safety incidents, such as car accidents, injuries, and emergency room visits.

Understanding the Stages of Relapse

According to the National Library of Medicine, “Relapse is a gradual process that begins weeks and sometimes months before an individual picks up a drink or drug. There are three stages to relapse: emotional, mental, and physical.”[2]


The emotional stage of relapse occurs first. During this stage, you might not even be thinking about abusing substances. Instead, you stop caring for your emotions in a healthy manner, which puts you at risk of relapsing.

The warning signs of emotional relapse include:

  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Not attending recovery support groups
  • Not participating in recovery support groups when you do attend
  • Focusing on other people’s problems instead of your own
  • Not managing your emotions in a healthy way
  • Being defensive
  • Experiencing mood swings
  • Not asking for help when you need it
  • Not having fun or practicing self-care


If you do not address an emotional relapse, you will enter the mental stage of relapse. During this stage, you will begin to romanticize drug or alcohol use. This happens because you were not healthily managing your emotions, leading you to begin fantasizing about numbing them with substances.

The warning signs of a mental relapse include:

  • Cravings or urges to use drugs or alcohol
  • Thinking about things associated with past drug use
  • Thinking of scenarios where it would be acceptable to use (bargaining)
  • Hanging out with old friends you used to use drugs with
  • Minimizing the consequences of past drug use
  • Glamorizing drug use or the lifestyle that came with it
  • Lying
  • Thinking of ways to control drug or alcohol use
  • Planning your relapse


If you do not address the emotional or mental stages of relapse, you will move on to the physical stage. This is the part of relapse that everyone is familiar with, where you actually begin abusing drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, relapse can be difficult to deal with and even dangerous at times, as it is extremely easy to overdose when you have no tolerance.

Should You Return to Rehab After You Relapse?

When you relapse, you are returning to substance abuse after a period of abstinence. It is extremely common for people to attempt to use the same amount of a drug that they were using before they got sober. This can lead to fatal overdoses, as you no longer have the tolerance you had before you stopped abusing drugs and alcohol.

Even if your relapse doesn’t lead to an overdose, it can cause other dangerous effects and behaviors. For example, you may begin to engage in dangerous behaviors like drinking while driving. On the other hand, you could get arrested for having drugs or doing illegal things to obtain them like stealing.

Because relapse puts you at risk of physical injury, legal issues, and even overdose-related deaths, you should always return to rehab after you experience a physical relapse. Going back to treatment can provide you with the support and tools that you missed out on the first time around, further preparing you to maintain long-term recovery.

Signs You Should Go Back to Rehab After an Addiction Relapse

Some people experience a brief lapse by using drugs or alcohol one time, then they tell their sponsor or therapist and take action to get back on the road to recovery. However, many people who relapse end up getting stuck back in the cycle of addiction–a cycle that only a treatment program can break.

Signs that you should absolutely go back to rehab include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by guilt, shame, or embarrassment regarding your relapse
  • Lying to loved ones about your sobriety
  • Trying to stop using but being unable to do so
  • Engaging in dangerous or illegal behaviors
  • Thinking about relapsing and feeling yourself going down the wrong path–even if you haven’t picked up drugs or alcohol yet
  • Continuing to use drugs or alcohol despite wanting to quit

Find Addiction Help After a Relapse

If you or a loved one have recently experienced a relapse, you should consider returning to rehab. Leaving a relapse untreated could cause you to develop a worse substance use disorder than you had before, putting you at risk of serious consequences like fatal overdoses. Returning to a professional addiction treatment program will ensure that you receive the support you need to regain sobriety and learn how to maintain it for the rest of your life.

When you go back to rehab, you will participate in relapse prevention therapy so you can identify the causes behind your relapse and what you can do to prevent it from happening again in the future. Therapy can also help you process any feelings you have about your relapse, reducing the guilt and shame that is so common among people who relapse on drugs and alcohol.

Everyone recovers at their own pace, so there is no shame in returning to treatment.

Whether you have relapsed or love someone who has, it’s important to seek professional help. Contact our qualified admissions coordinators today to learn more about our top-rated addiction recovery programs.