Slips and relapses are constant obstacles during recovery from an addiction of any kind. No matter what substance or practice that someone is addicted to, there will be urges to revert back to addictive and destructive practices. While someone should establish coping strategies to deal with these urges early on, there is always a chance that someone will experience a slip or relapse in their recovery. Even if this is the case, there is always a way to get back on track with recovery. Understanding slips and relapses, and what to do when you relapse, can help each person set appropriate personal strategies for their recovery going forward. Even if someone experiences a slip or relapse, that doesn’t mean they are beyond recovery from their addiction. Rather, it can be an indicator that there needs to be a change or adjustment in someone’s recovery plan. Knowing the steps to take after a lapse vs. relapse can help each person create a new and more effective plan for the future.
Slips and Relapses in Recovery
What Does It Mean to Have a Slip?
Slips, or “lapses,” are often single-time occurrences that happen unintentionally, and without a pattern. They are the case where someone re-engages with an addictive substance due to external reasons, such as having a glass of wine at a wedding. They often involve environmental factors that unintentionally put someone in a high-risk situation. While someone recovering from an addiction to alcohol may take a sip of wine, or have a beer at a gathering where they were not expecting alcohol to be present, these slips are often accompanied by a great deal of shame or guilt about their actions. During a slip, someone may put the drink back down quickly and find a way to ground themselves in their situation or contact one of their support systems. Slips can be used as a learning experience, showing each person how quickly that addiction can try to regain control of their lives and express the importance of the skills that are being instilled during therapy. Experiencing a slip or lapse doesn’t mean that it will necessarily develop into a relapse, though it is possible if the person doesn’t address the situation quickly with their support system and professionals. During a slip, recovery is still the priority, and a person may feel a great deal of shame because of the pride and effort they are still putting into their recovery journey.
What Qualifies as a Relapse?
Signs of Relapse
There are a few different signals that someone may be experiencing a relapse, or if they are in danger of relapsing if left unaddressed. What happens when you relapse can vary from person to person, but there are some common signs to watch for. Cravings will seem to increase, and there may be a new friend or social group that someone is spending more and more time with. Relapses can also involve a romanticization of the past, and a longing for things to return to the way they were before the difficulties of recovery began. Someone may also become more isolated, reclusive and uninterested in their hobbies or previous interests, or be unwilling to use established outlets. Relapses can also set in from overconfidence in someone’s recovery, causing them to become complacent and thus less prepared to deal with these increasing urges in each moment. Knowing what to do when you relapse will be up to the strategies instilled by a professional and loving support system, but there will almost always be a look back at someone’s immediate grounding techniques, environment and potential triggers, and the establishment of a new approach or therapeutic practice to recovery.
So Someone Slipped Up — Now What?
Addressing a slip needs to be done directly. It is important to acknowledge that it happened, and not cower behind the guise of shame. Confronting the event directly and addressing the slip is the best way to ensure that it doesn’t continue to develop into a relapse. Slips are common and are not indicative of a failure in any way. They are unintentional, and having a lapse in the moment doesn’t mean that someone has to restart their recovery. After a slip, someone can typically return to the same stage they were already attending in recovery, and address the various elements that led to the slip, such as environment and the people present, or potential unforeseen triggers that may have been involved. However, slips can also prove to be a motivational tool, as someone can identify the techniques they used successfully to then be able to back off from a previous addiction and take pride in their ability to quickly regain their agency over addiction.
What to Do When You Relapse
What Drug Has the Highest Rate of Relapse?
Relapse can be more intense or probable, depending on the person and their unique situation and environment. While heroin is widely regarded as the most addictive drug, it also has one of the highest rates of relapse. However, that doesn’t mean that other drugs or alcohol are not just as dangerous when it comes to the threat of relapse. Relapse is something that can happen with any kind of addiction, and regardless of the addiction, it is important to have a relapse prevention strategy in place early on in recovery in order to effectively cope with the urges that may be present through the recovery process and beyond. Recovery from addiction is a life-long battle that will require various coping strategies and tweaks to the recovery model to adapt to the person’s constantly changing life. However, slips and relapses don’t mean there is no hope for recovery. There is always a way to recover, even if it takes a couple of tries. There are always new developments, and each person has the ability to live a sober life with the right treatment, coping mechanisms, and therapy.