What if I relapse?

Breaking free of addiction, many former addicts will tell you, is like struggling free from the jaws of a terrible beast. It is not an easy accomplishment. The teeth and claws of the monster dig themselves down into the deepest parts of your life — your mind and your soul.

Unfortunately, we never come out unscathed. The wounds that we inflicted in the battle with addiction, we carry along with us when we climb out of its lair and set foot on the path of sobriety.

The wounds of addiction heal over time. With the help of support groups, family and other loved ones, they act as easing balms over our pain. But it is possible for these wounds to open again if we are not careful, and the scent of blood will attract that old beast.

This is known as a “relapse.”

Know the difference between a “slip” and a “relapse”

There are two types of cases in which a recovered addict uses drugs or alcohol. Sometimes it is just a “slip,” but other times it is a “relapse.”

One slip a relapse does not make

A “slip” is just a singular event, a one-time instance of drug or alcohol abuse. Having a slip does not necessarily mean that the person has renounced everything that was gained during recovery and returned full-fledged to their addiction. The patient is also still responsible for maintaining the principles and practices of their program. The patient should be able to move on from their fleeting indulgence in their former addiction and resume their sober, recovered lifestyle.

A relapse means all-in

However, a relapse means that the patient has returned to a full consumption of drugs, alcohol, or their addictive behavior, after a period of abstinence. Usually, the patient has no intention of returning to or maintaining their old guidelines of their addiction program. It is possible for a patient to relapse multiple times. This means that they alternate between periods of heavy drug/alcohol use and periods of sobriety.

Relapse does not mean failure

It needs to be stressed that a slip, or even a relapse, does not mean that the patient has failed. A relapse is not inevitable, but if it occurs, it should not be seen as a cessation of all recovery, but a natural part of recovery. Relapse is just part of the reality of being an addict. According to Psychology Today, as many as 90 percent of recovering addicts experience a relapse, a slip, or some other form of interference in their sobriety.

If the patient experiences a relapse, they are not done for. Hope is far from lost.

The finest drug addiction treatment program cannot perfectly eliminate a relapsing from happening. Remember that the wounds of the beast’s teeth and claws aren’t just a metaphor — the physiological aftermath an addiction has on the brain is very real. After years of damage done by an addictive substance to the brain deteriorates the self-control system, which makes it very hard to resist the overwhelming triggers and sensations during a sober period.


Things to remember if you relapse …

If you experience a slip or a relapse, there are several things you should consider before taking further action, such as returning to a treatment center.

The only true failure in your life is giving up, and this includes recovery. After a slip-up or a relapse, you might feel guilty or ashamed. Do not let these negative feelings motivate you to further the cycle of your addiction. Take alternative steps to deal with these emotions and move on from this minor setback.

Instead of feeling guilty and self-pity for your mistake, you can use this temporary setback as extra motivation to double down on your commitment to being sober. Now that you’ve experienced your addiction again, you are reminded of how much you regret and despise it, and that makes it much easier to avoid from now on.

You are not back to “day one”

For someone who has had a slip or a relapse, they may feel as if all of their progress made in treatment and abstinence in their daily life has gone to waste, that they’ve gone all the way back to “day one.” This is hardly the case. You cannot take away the experiences and lessons you learned in treatment and support groups — you can very easily “catch up” to the state of sobriety that took you longer to reach before. The individual who has been sober for several days can feel a stronger sense of sobriety than even someone who has been abstinent for years.

Returning to treatment

The return of an addiction might be so strong that you don’t have the ability to overcome it again on your own. If you have returned full-fledged into your addiction, you may need to return to an addiction treatment center.

What should I do if someone close to me relapses?

It is most important to realize that this is the addict’s battle. You can give them all the emotional, fiscal and psychological support you can, but in the end, take the burden off of yourself, because it is the addict’s final responsibility. Recovery is up to the addict. No one else can make choices for them.

Remember to stand firm. If someone you know is an addict and they have relapsed, show sympathy, but also hold them accountable.

Encourage the addict. Keep reminding them of the original recovery plan, and refer them to their doctors and counselors. Also be sure to take care of yourself, so you can give the best help to them. If you can set a good example of healthy living and the addict sees it, it will encourage them more to adopt your same lifestyle.

Be supportive and optimistic. Keep alcohol, drugs, or whichever substance/behavior of the addict, out of the house. Relapse certainly wasn’t the result that you were looking for, but it doesn’t spell the end of their recovery. As long as you can return your loved one to treatment, you can both be on the path to a peaceful, happy, drug-free life.