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How to Overcome the Guilt of Relapse

The battle against substance abuse comes with significant emotional baggage. Guilt and shame in addiction can happen at different stages in your journey, however, these feelings may be magnified during an episode of relapse after many years of living a life in sobriety. Oftentimes, people struggling with addiction view this as a personal failure or a sign that they are hopeless and too far gone for any addiction treatment to work. But nothing can be further from the truth.

Relapsing does not make you a failure or mean that the treatment has failed. For some people, it’s a normal part of the recovery process. According to the National Institute on Drug Use, the relapse rates for substance abuse are similar to those of other chronic medical illnesses. What this means is that when you stop treatment, you are more likely to relapse. This is why newer addiction recovery models incorporate a continuing care program for relapse prevention.

How to Deal with Relapse 

Guilt and shame in addiction recovery or relapse will not get you anywhere. If you or a loved one has recently gone into relapse or you’re worried about its likelihood in the future, know that there are many paths that you can take to get back on the road to addiction recovery. 

Here are some steps on how to deal with relapse.

Recognize The Early Stages Of Relapse 

Relapse does not happen overnight. It’s a complex process with three stages: emotional, mental, and physical. Knowing the tell-tale signs of each one can play a huge part in providing support immediately and preventing a full-on relapse from happening.

Don’t Hesitate To Reach Out For Help 

When you feel that something is not right with you or a loved one emotionally— such as sudden anxiety, anger, loneliness, or depression—take a proactive approach and get help right away.

Addiction recovery is a lifelong process. Like any health condition, there is nothing wrong with going back to treatment whenever necessary. Instead of feeling guilty or shameful about it, consider it a brave and bold choice to fully heal yourself.

Man being comforted in a group counselling session

Participate in Addiction Support Groups 

Dealing with the guilt and shame in recovery can be challenging because it may feel like there are only a few people who can relate to what you’re really going through. Aside from dealing with the stigma, guilt, and shame in addiction, recovering addicts also feel isolated or misunderstood, paving the way for them to reconnect with their old friends and compromise their sobriety. Attending a local addiction support group may be an excellent source of inspiration and motivation to see you through recovery.

Identify and Steer Clear of Your Triggers 

Take a step back and reflect on what triggers addiction for you. Addiction relapse triggers are often internal or external. Specific triggers are unique to every individual, but some of the most common ones include:

  • A standing friendship with users who normalize substance use and give you easy access to drugs or alcohol.
  • Severe emotional stress from family conflict, financial problems, or problems at work may trigger you to seek substances to cope.
  • Social gatherings where there’s pressure to use—whether real or imagined—or careless exposure to drinking alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Unaddressed mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), or an eating disorder, make you more vulnerable to relapse.
  • Unresolved emotional issues, such as the guilt and shame in addiction, when confronted with how it has dramatically and negatively affected their lives and those of their loved ones.

Once you’ve identified your potential relapse triggers, make a conscious choice to protect yourself against them. This includes developing healthy habits to replace the negative ones, setting boundaries when interacting or keeping distance with particular negative influences in your life, and having a health professional address your concurrent disorders effectively.

Practice Self-Care 

Taking care of yourself in all aspects – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – can make a difference in the way you manage internal triggers, such as dealing with guilt and shame in recovery or relapse. Here are some self-care strategies that you can incorporate into your relapse prevention plan to avoid future setbacks.

  • Exercise. Focusing on personal fitness can be an outlet on how to deal with relapse and the guilt it comes with. Exercising regularly for a significant period can help reduce cravings in individuals recovering from alcohol dependence who have completed the withdrawal phase of detox.
  • Get adequate sleep. Studies show that sleep disturbances like insomnia are a universal predictor of addiction relapse. Prioritize building good sleep habits. Seek professional help, if needed, to address sleep issues properly.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditations. Research suggests the benefits of mindfulness activities work to reshape the brain positively, help you overcome triggers, resist cravings, triumph over the guilt and shame in addiction, and make a difference in your life-long quest for recovery.

Man meditating in the mountains

Learn To Forgive 

Understand that addiction is a disease. When a loved one goes into relapse, it’s not a deliberate choice to hurt you, and it doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person. Likewise, if you’re the one struggling with addiction, forgive yourself and accept that you are a work in progress. Overcoming addiction takes more than willpower; it requires going through research-based treatment for a long time and continuous support from people who matter most.

Continuing Care for Relapse Prevention 

At Freedom From Addiction, we acknowledge that relapse is always a possibility. We help patients successfully transition back into their everyday life by unlearning negative behaviours, letting go of past emotional trauma, moving on from guilt and shame in addiction, and arming them with practical life skills and healthy coping mechanisms that can make them less susceptible to relapse.

Our Relapse Prevention is based on a Continuing Care Program that offers long-term support for patients in recovery through:

  • Family Therapy;
  • Emotional Recovery;
  • Individual Counselling;
  • Group Counselling;
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; and
  • Mental Health Treatment.

If you or a loved one need additional support in dealing with guilt and shame in addiction recovery or relapse, let Freedom From Addiction help you. We have a highly qualified team of addiction counsellors, therapists, and healthcare professionals to assist you on how to deal with relapse risks and other related concerns.

Contact us today! A member of our team will get back to you shortly.


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