7 Ways to Stop Fearing Relapse

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What We Fear

It has occurred to me that most people in early recovery from Substance Abuse Disorders (SUDs) are afraid of relapse. They’ve been taught not to get too cocky about their success with sobriety, because addiction is a disease and sometimes the disease comes back like a tumor.


I’ll admit, almost three years into my recovery, I have a tendency to look over my shoulder, as if a relapse could sneak up and pound me on the back like that old college roommate I want to forget – the one who knows my Secret History


And I’ve heard many people in recovery say they fear relapse. That punch in the gut, “I WANT” that comes out of nowhere when least expected. It’s the primal need that challenges every tool in the sobriety tool box and has you (like some sort of zombie) pulling up to Joe’s Bar as the OPEN sign gets flipped, or popping the cap off the cooking sherry at the back of the spice cabinet, plugging your nose and taking the hit.


Relapse is folklore, told around campfires and passed down from generation to generation of addicts. Relapse is based in science and statistics too:


  • Only about a third of people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent
  • For those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half will relapse
  • If you can make it to 5 years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15 %
  • More than 23 million people in America are in remission/recovery from substance abuse disorders


We simply have to give sobriety time to germinate. Obviously, when trying to get through the first sober year and beyond you should avoid triggers such as: disappointments, job setbacks, isolation, relationship snafus, Joe’s Bar and bad hair days. But isn’t that life? We really have to be able to face life’s peccadilloes without pounding a pint of Jack. And we have to be patient.


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Stop Fearing Relapse

    • Stick with what works. If you go to a meeting every day, pray, write in a journal and sing in the town choir (and it’s working for you) keep it up. Establish accountability to those activities and have key people call you if you change your patterns.
    • Don’t romanticize the bad ole drinking days. You are smart – you can tell a funny drinking story without wanting to go back to those times. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten was, “Play the scenario all the way to the end.” If you find yourself waxing nostalgic, remember that at the end of that “magical night” you puked all over the door handle of your date’s new car
    • Work on your attitude. When I drank, I was moody and angry and selfish. Try to remember it’s not all about you and do something nice for someone else every day.
    • Stop fantasizing. It is imprudent to think you are “fixed” and ready for just one glass of wine with dinner. Seriously. Stop thinking that. And stop fearing relapse while you are at it.
    • Don’t try to be a hero. Or for heaven’s sake, don’t test yourself – you’ve been through enough. If a situation or a place or a person makes you feel uncomfortable, WALK AWAY or call a sober friend.
    • Lay your defenses down. Let your loved ones help you. Listen when they tell you they are concerned with your behavior. You’ve asked them to call you on your shit, so take it like a woman if they do.
    • Do not neglect your physical, spiritual or mental health. Make sure that every day you actively avoid the isolation that is natural to addiction. Embrace community whenever you can.


There will be times when your mind plays tricks on you. There will be times when every tool in your sobriety toolbox gets left in the trunk of the other car (ever try to hang a painting using a stapler as a hammer?). Those are the times that will try your soul. Those are the times to rely on the support system you have established: keep the numbers at stand-ready and call a sober friend. Say, “I’m having a bad day. I’m afraid.”

It’s like speaking the name of “Voldemort” at Hogwarts. When you say it aloud to a friend, your fear begins to lose its power.


Things will get better almost immediately…and you will stop fearing relapse.




Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.