You’ve Suffered a Relapse – Now What?

First of all, I am very sorry if you are reading this because you have suffered from a relapse. I’m here to tell you it’s not the end, it is a serious setback, and you can recover if you take it seriously and act on your mistakes.


I’m not too much a fan of sports analogies, but in this case, I can’t help myself. You wouldn’t expect a sports team or an athlete to quit their career just because of one loss. A relapse is not the end of your treatment, it’s a temporary setback. Losing teams that want to win again:

  • identify what caused their loss
  • improve on that aspect of their game
  • and at the same time, they stick to fundamentals.


Frankly, I think there is too much of a stigma in 12 Step programs against having a relapse. A relapse should be avoided at all costs, if possible, but on the other side, having some period of sobriety is much better than not having that period at all.


There are two factors that need to be identified after a relapse. These are the physical factors that enabled the relapse, and the mental disposition which caused you to choose to act out.


Physical factors can include such things as:

  • Too much free time
  • Too much money
  • Access to locations where you act out.
  • Hidden, unmonitored Internet access
  • Contributory substances/other addictions.
  • Old phone numbers, sms, or other ways that sex partners can reach you.
  • People who work against your addiction, enablers, conspirators, etc.


The mental factors involved a relapse can include things like

  • Unresolved resentments and anger.
  • Stress- work or money related issues
  • Psychological disorders
    • Depression
    • Bipolar Disorder
  • Hubris/Laziness- Getting away from the program because you feel that you’re cured.


Once you’ve identified the physical and mental factors that caused this relapse, it’s time to strengthen your sobriety by addressing these issues. Consider the following solutions for dealing with the physical factors.

Contributing Factor Actions to address it.
Too much free time
  • Plan your day with activities
  • Have a list of things to do when you have free time
  • Have a list of positive alternatives to acting out.
Too much money
  • Limit your amounts of cash
  • Limit your access to an ATM card
  • Have your credit company block charges for services you’ve used to act out in the past.
  • Do not have secret accounts or credit/debit cards.
Access to locations where you used to act out
  • Plan alternative routes when near these types of locations.
  • Put GPS tracking on your phone or car, and have your accountability partner monitor your movements.
  • If you have to travel to or through those locations, arrange to speak with your accountability partner before, during, and/or right after your trip.
Nonrestrictive Internet Access
  • Put blocking/monitoring software on your computer or router
  • Have an accountability partner view your logs.
  • Only use the Internet when other people are around, in a public area, when you need it.
Contributory substances/other addictions
  • Limit the use of these substances, ideally at all times, especially when other factors exist.
  • If necessary, get treatment for the other addiction
Ways for sex partners to reach you.
  • Change your phone number
  • Block their number
  • Turn off SMS, Skype and social media on your phone or computer.
People who contribute to your addiction
  • Use some of the methods above to reduce contact if possible.
  • If it’s someone you need to deal with, like a co-worker, attempt to not be with them alone.
  • Arrange to limit your time with them.


The good news about applying physical methods to deal with physical relapse issues is that they may work effectively for a short time. The bad new is that addicts almost always find a way to work around all of these barriers. Even when partially effective, physical barriers may buy you some time to use other methods to address a relapse before it happens.


In addition to addressing the physical factors that caused the relapse, it’s probably more important to address the mental states that lead you to act out. Again, some suggestions:


Contributing Factor Ways to address it.
Resentment Triggers
  • Work with a therapist or your sponsor on your resentments. (The 4th step is a great place to start)
  • If your resentments are related to a spouse/partner, it may make sense to dialog with them, or get into a counseling situation.
Stress Triggers
  • Practice stress management techniques, like meditation/exercise
  • Learn to say no to work that isn’t yours.
Psychological Disorders
  • Seek help from a qualified mental health professional
  • Hopefully you’ll learn from your relapse that you aren’t cured.
  • Go back to working the program.


I think a separate note about money problems is prudent.I’ve been unemployed in the past, for a long period, and I know that it is very difficult to deal with that kind of stress.  It would be very cavalier of me to tell you how to solve your money problems with a couple of bullet points. I am aware as well that lack of money and insurance makes getting good mental health treatment difficult.


All the tools above fall into the category of maintenance and reduction. It’s also prudent to have in your toolkit a set of tools to use when you are in a crisis situation. A core group of people that you can reach in a crisis is the best tool I’ve found when relapse seems imminent. I’ve been pulled off the ledge and out of the abyss more than once by my sponsor, my therapist, and others in my group. Others have found help with visualization methods, such as imagining the real outcomes that could be caused by acting out, have worked for them. Others turn to prayer as a source of strength.


Who needs to know about your relapse?  It’s hard to divulge a relapse, even in a 12 Step Group.  As I stated before, there is a negative stigma to relapsing in 12 Step Groups, but with sex addiction, I think that stigma isn’t as strong. I know very few sex addicts who haven’t relapsed in some way. You’ll find people in your group who have been there, who won’t judge you, and who will help with your continued fight. If you have a therapist or counselor, it wouldn’t make sense not to tell them. You’re paying them to help you with your problem, and they can’t help you if they don’t know you’re still struggling.


Unfortunately, this is hard, but if you’ve possibly jeopardized the health of your partner by performing risky sexual activities, you have an obligation to disclose to them as well. If you’re acting out has caused financial difficulties, it may be prudent to disclose as well. You may want to have a competent third party available to offer his or her support during and after your disclosure.

The best option, of course, is not to have a relapse. It’s important to have a program in place to manage your sexual addiction (routine things like sponsor check ins, attending meetings, counseling, taking your meds, and exercise), and have tools in place to react in times of crisis, such as having a direct line to people in your group, and a list of items to counter an oncoming relapse.


I’d love to improve this document, and can do so only with your feedback. Please send me,  any ideas for improvement. Good luck.