What to do if you lapse or relapse

Lapses or relapses are not the end of your journey. They're a natural part of making changes, and they're opportunities to learn and grow.

What do I do if I've lapsed or relapsed?

A lapse or relapse is a common part of the recovery journey.

If you’ve had a drink or used drugs again after stopping for a while, it can be difficult to know how to move forward. 

You might feel guilty or disappointed, like you’ve let people down, or you’ve thrown away your hard work.

It’s completely natural to feel that way, but rather than viewing it as a complete setback, recognise that it's a temporary challenge in the bigger picture of recovery and it offers important things to learn.

A lapse is not a disaster

Having a lapse or relapse is not the end of the road.

Recovery is a process of learning. Sometimes it takes a while, and it’s rarely a straight line. 

Lapses, relapses and other setbacks are a natural part of the change process. You might feel disheartened right now, but that will pass. Whether this is your first lapse or not, try to remember that this is a chance to:

  1. learn more about your triggers and how to avoid them
  2. show people how they can help you in future
  3. find new ways to cope with challenges in your daily life

Deciding whether to tell someone

It’s your decision whether to tell someone about your lapse or relapse.

It’s natural to want to protect the feelings of your loved ones. And for some people, talking about your lapse could risk your personal safety or your living situation.

But if you can, there are big benefits to talking about your experience. You could start by looking at our advice on how to tell someone about your drinking or drug use.

As well as talking to your friends or family, it might also be the right time to get some professional help.

If you're already in treatment

If you’re already seeing a treatment service, then telling your recovery worker about your lapse helps them support you better.

They are trained to understand that treatment is a process, not a quick fix.

It’s understandable if you don’t want to let people down. But if you do tell your recovery worker about your lapse or relapse, they will be glad you did.

It will help them understand more about your situation, so they can work with you to make lapses or relapses less likely in future.

If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, the trained advisors from our webchat team can give you some free and confidential advice.

If you're not in treatment

If you’re not already in contact with a treatment service, now could be a good time to speak to one.

It’s a big achievement to get this far without professional help. But speaking to a service can offer you even more support.

We have more than 80 free and confidential services across England and Scotland that can help.

No problem is too big or too small. We can help you, no matter the stage you’re at: whether this is your first lapse or the most recent.

Find a local service

And if you’re not ready to take that step, you can speak to one of our trained advisors online. They can offer you free and confidential advice about what to do next.

Talk to us online