Deutsch: Rückfall / Español: Recaída / Português: Recaída / Français: Rechute / Italiano: Ricaduta

Relapse in the psychology context refers to the return of symptoms or a return to a previous state of behavior after a period of improvement or recovery. This term is commonly used in the treatment of mental health disorders, addiction, and chronic illnesses, where individuals may experience a re-emergence of symptoms or revert to unhealthy behaviors after a period of remission.


In psychology, a relapse occurs when an individual who has made progress in managing a mental health condition or addiction reverts to previous patterns of behavior or symptoms. Relapses are often seen in the context of substance use disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and other chronic mental health issues. The relapse process can be triggered by various factors, including stress, environmental cues, emotional distress, or lapses in treatment adherence.

Relapse is a critical concept in the treatment and management of mental health and addiction because it highlights the chronic nature of these conditions and the need for ongoing support and intervention. The goal in treatment is often to reduce the frequency and severity of relapses and to provide individuals with the tools and strategies to cope with triggers and stressors that may lead to a relapse.


Relapse does not indicate failure but rather underscores the need for continuous and adaptive strategies in treatment. It is essential for both patients and healthcare providers to understand that relapses are a normal part of the recovery process and can provide valuable insights into triggers and necessary adjustments in treatment plans.

Application Areas

  1. Substance Use Disorders: Managing relapse in individuals recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol.
  2. Mental Health Disorders: Addressing relapse in conditions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
  3. Eating Disorders: Preventing and managing relapse in individuals recovering from anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder.
  4. Chronic Illness Management: Understanding relapse in the context of chronic conditions like schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  5. Behavioral Addictions: Managing relapse in behaviors such as gambling, internet addiction, or other compulsive behaviors.

Well-Known Examples

  • Addiction Recovery: Individuals who have been sober for a period but start using substances again due to stress or exposure to triggers.
  • Depression: A person who has been symptom-free for months but experiences a return of depressive symptoms following a significant life event.
  • Anxiety Disorders: Someone with generalized anxiety disorder who manages symptoms well for years but experiences a relapse during a particularly stressful period.
  • Eating Disorders: An individual recovering from bulimia who returns to bingeing and purging behaviors during a time of emotional distress.
  • Behavioral Addictions: A compulsive gambler who returns to gambling activities after a period of abstinence due to financial or emotional pressures.

Treatment and Risks

Relapse prevention is a key component of treatment plans for chronic mental health and addiction issues. Strategies include:

  • Relapse Prevention Therapy: A form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) designed to help individuals recognize and manage triggers.
  • Ongoing Support Groups: Participation in groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to provide continuous support.
  • Stress Management Techniques: Teaching individuals coping strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques.
  • Medication Management: Ensuring adherence to prescribed medications and adjusting treatment as needed.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Changes: Encouraging regular exercise, healthy eating, and sleep hygiene to support overall well-being.

Similar Terms

  • Recurrence: The return of symptoms of a chronic condition after a period of remission.
  • Setback: A temporary reversal of progress in treatment or recovery.
  • Slip: A minor lapse in behavior that does not necessarily lead to a full relapse.
  • Regression: A return to earlier patterns of behavior or functioning, often seen in developmental psychology.


Relapse in the psychology context refers to the re-emergence of symptoms or return to unhealthy behaviors after a period of improvement. It is a common and expected part of the recovery process for many chronic mental health conditions and addictions. Effective relapse prevention and management strategies are essential for maintaining long-term recovery and well-being.