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Recovery Isn't Linear: Bouncing back after a Relapse

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

Everyone probably has gone through something that they need to recover from. Be it a traumatic experience, a mental illness, relationships, addictions, and the like. We are all trying our best to heal ourselves in our ways. However, it is quite unavoidable to have a relapse.

Relapse is when a condition gets bad again after it has already shown signs of improvement. It is when a bad habit or behavior recurs again after a long period of withdrawal from it. An example would be a person recovering from depression who might get intrusive suicidal thoughts again. An alcoholic that has stopped consuming alcohol for months, could relapse and go on a binge drinking session.

Relapse is normal and is a part of the journey towards healing and recovery. It does not cancel all the progress that you have made so far. Recovery is not linear, don’t be too hard on yourself if you experience setbacks. Here’s how to bounce back after a relapse:

Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT) is an approach developed by Dr. Marlatt and Dr. Gordon, to help people in recovery assess the factors which caused them to relapse. It has three primary areas of focus:

  1. The first area focuses on helping people adopt habits, behavioral techniques, and lifestyle changes, such as a healthier routine of sleeping, exercising, and relaxing.

  2. The second area focuses on training people with their coping skills, to help them control their cravings and urges, including high-risk circumstances and feelings.

  3. The third area focuses on cognitive therapy interventions which help people in changing their perspective about relapse so that they can regard it as a lesson instead of a sign of failure.

While I have mentioned that relapse is normal, there are precautions that you can take to prevent relapse or reduce its impact when it occurs. If you’re on medication, please continue taking it, regardless if you’re feeling well.

Identify your early warning signs - these signs that your health may be getting worse. If you can determine these signs, then you can take countermeasures early. Assess yourself: when and how did it begin, what changed about your thoughts and behavior, and did these occur in a specific order? You may also ask the people around you if they have observed anything different about you. These changes are often caused by triggers. Some of the most common triggers are insufficient/poor sleep, grief, conflict with others, stressful events, change in environment, negative events, not following your treatment plan, or other health problems.

Create a list of activities that can help you as self-care and support. These can be writing in a journal, talking to peers, consulting a professional, watching feel-good movies, joining support groups, enjoying nature, exploring new hobbies, volunteering, getting more/better sleep, and other stuff that you enjoy.

It is also advisable that you build healthy coping skills, as well as learn how to identify and manage stressful situations. It is important that you can incorporate healthy thinking habits. Prioritize self-care when dealing with stressful events. Create realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Treat yourself with self-compassion. Ask for help from others if you need it.

Always remember that your feelings are valid. You are not in this alone. Your progress is still there even if you relapse. Just remember to bounce back and come back stronger!



Hartney, E. (2021, October 11). What to Do After a Relapse.

Canadian Mental Health Association. (2021). Preventing Relapse of a Mental Illness.

Blackford, M. (2021, October 7). 5 Mental Health Relapse Triggers Everyone Should Know About. FHE Rehab.


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