Understanding relapse

A “relapse” simply means starting to misuse opioids again, either as a one-off or over a longer period of time.

Either way, it’s a common setback and not a failure. Opioid dependence is a chronic disease and as with many other chronic illnesses (like asthma or arthritis), there may be times when people experience symptoms despite treatment. Many people trying to stop misusing opioids will relapse one or more times. If you relapse, don’t despair.

Quitting opioid misuse could be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do and you should try to be patient with yourself. Try to treat relapse as a learning experience, so that you can make adjustments.


“Relapse is part of recovery and relapsing doesn’t mean you’re not going to succeed in the end.”

Personal experience

Why does relapse happen?

There are many different reasons why you might relapse.

Here are a few comments from people who have experienced these setbacks:


  • “My cravings were too strong – nothing else was helping”
  • “I was feeling really stressed”
  • “Only I know how I’m really feeling”
  • “Just this once, then I’ll never do it again”


Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the temptation to misuse opioids again feels too hard to resist. Sometimes it’s even success that leads to a relapse. You think because you’ve been opioid-free for a while, that you can use again occasionally without any consequences. Medication may help to reduce the cravings, but you may also want to make other changes to your life and create new patterns of behavior. In the meantime, if you do relapse, you may want to speak with your doctor and care team and with your support group if you have one. Be honest about what caused the relapse, seek out the help you need, and never give up on your journey.


“If you’ve had a relapse, get right back on track. Remember, you’re not going to change what happened. What you can change is what you do about it, and what happens from now on.”

Personal experience

“Slips are part of recovery. If you have a slip, just pick yourself up and go right back …Go to a meeting, call a friend. Call your counselor. It’s just a little hiccup. Try to figure out what made you slip and try to avoid it or fix it so a slip doesn’t happen again. Be honest with yourself about it, be honest with whoever is in your immediate circle – like if you’re in a group or have a counselor let them know. Be honest – it makes it more real and helps you start dealing with it.”

Personal experience

“Relapses can happen. Don’t give up hope – if you are willing to keep trying, and keep believing that you can do it and that things will get better – you’re OK.”

Personal experience

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