When people return to alcohol or drugs after a period of sobriety it can have disastrous consequences. In some cases this relapse will be short lived and the individual will be able to reestablish themselves in recovery without too many adverse consequences. Other people can once again get caught up in the downward spiral of addiction and never have another chance of escaping this.
The word relapse originates from Latin and it means to slip back. It is most often used to describe the situation when an individual who has been sober for a period of time returns to alcohol or drug use. It does not matter if this individual has only been sober for weeks, months, years, or decades. If they return to substance abuse it will be referred to as a relapse.
A slip refers to a situation where an individual briefly returns to alcohol or drug use but managed to stop again before they slip back into addiction. This can happen if the individual picked up again but automatically regretted the decision. It may have been something they did on the spur of the moment, and they have not fully lost their motivation to stay sober. If the person is able to do the right things they will be able to prevent a slip turning into a relapse.
There are many reasons for why an individual can have a slip in recovery including:
* The individual has become so overcome with emotions that they are unable to think rationally. For example, the individual may have becomes so overwhelmed by anger and drinking or using drugs suddenly makes sense to them.
* Cravings can arise at any time, but they can be particularly troublesome in early recovery. If the individual is in a position where they can act on this craving right away (e.g. they are sitting in a bar) they might just give into this desire.
* The individual is having a bad day and they use this as justification to drink or use drugs again. They automatically regret the decision once they have acted upon it.
* The person wants to punish other people by relapsing, but they realize right away that the only person they are punishing is themselves.
* If people are not careful they can accidently drink our use drugs again. A good example of this would be the individual who is sitting in a bar with friends and just picks up a beer out of habit.
* The person has decided to return to alcohol or drugs again, but as soon as they act on this decision they regret it.
If a slip progresses to a full blown relapse it will produce negative consequences which could include:
* Returning to addiction after a period of sobriety can mean that the misery feels much worse. This is because the individual will already have tasted what it means to be free, and this makes the negative aspects of their behavior more noticeable.
* When people return to alcohol or drug use there is no guarantee that they will ever be able to stop again. This is because they might never again develop the willingness to give recovery another go.
* Family and friends who put their trust in the individual and supported the recovery attempt will feel let down. They find it difficult to ever trust this person again.
* The individual who relapses will usually feel full of guilt and remorse. They will have put a great deal of effort into creating a new life and now all that is left of that attempt is disappointment.
* When people relapse it can lower their self efficacy – this is the belief they have in their ability to achieve something. If self efficacy is reduced then this means that it will become harder for them to stop the self destructive behavior in the future.
* The individual can use the fact that they have relapsed as evidence that building a life away from addiction is not a viable option for them.
If a person in recovery picks up alcohol or drugs again they will most often return to previous addictive behavior. This is because it is not easy to stop again once people have picked up because:
* After people drink or use drugs again the obsession returns, and the ability to think rationally decreases.
*The person’s motivation for recovery will also likely be low or otherwise they would not have picked up in the first place. In order to salvage their recovery they are going to need a great deal of motivation.
*The individual fails to realize that by continuing with the behavior they are reducing their chances of returning to recovery anytime soon.
* The fact that they have already used alcohol or drugs will offer an excuse for continued use. This type of thinking is summed up with the saying you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb – in other words, the individual already believes that they will suffer negative consequences because of the relapse so they might as well engage in it some more.
* When people slip they can fool themselves into believing that they will be able to stop again at any time.
* The slip will weaken the individual’s self efficacy so that they might not believe that they have the power to stop the return to addiction.
* The person feels so full of guilt about the slip that they turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope with this.
* The individual can develop the idea that it will be better for them to fully relapse so they can hit rock bottom once again and develop the motivation to quit. They may even believe that this will strengthen their future recovery – they fail to appreciate that their next rock bottom might be death.
In order to prevent a slip becoming a relapse it is vital to take immediate action:
* The individual needs to stop the substance abuse right away. The more alcohol they drink or drugs they take the lower their chances of returning to the recovery path.
* The seriousness of a slip should not be downplayed. It is a definite sign that something has gone wrong in the person’s recovery.
* If the reason behind the slip is not understood and dealt with it is almost certain to cause problems again in the future. The individual needs to fully investigate this slip and learn from it.
* There is no benefit to feeling guilty about the slip, but this is not to say that the individual should ignore the event. They did make a mistake and they do have to learn from this mistake if they hope to remain sober.
* After a slip it is vital that the individual makes staying sober their number one priority. Anything that has been getting in the way of recovery needs to be abandoned.
* Getting enough support can be critical after a slip. Those individuals who have been going solo in recovery might want to consider other options.
When the individual slips they will have experienced a failure in their recovery. They are likely to feel disappointed and maybe even a bit ashamed. There can be a great deal of negativity and the person may also have to deal with the disappointment of loved ones. If the individual is overcome with guilt it can be a drain on their motivation. Such thinking is also unlikely to be of benefit to them. In order to overcome negativity following a slip the person can:
* Keep in mind that the only real failure in life is giving up. They have experienced a temporary setback, and the only real failure is giving up.
* So long as the individual learns from this mistake, and never repeats it, some good may come out of the slip.
* Instead of feeling guilty the individual can redouble their efforts to ensure their success in sobriety.
* The person may feel like they have gone back to day one in recovery. Even if this is true the only day that anyone has in sobriety is today – and individual who has been only physically sober for a few days can experience a stronger sense of sobriety than the individual who has been sober for decades.
It is far easier to avoid slips and relapses than it is to deal with them. The individual can completely avoid a return to addiction by:
* Keeping sobriety as their number one priority in life.
* If the individual is willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober they will never relapse.
* The individual needs to be aware of the most common relapse trigger and have strategies for avoiding these.
* It is important to have some type of support network that the individual can turn to when they feel their recovery is in jeopardy. This could include a therapist, a group of sober friends, or a recovery fellowship.
* The person needs to be always on the lookout for any evidence that they might be going off course in recovery.
* The individual should become familiar with relapse prevention techniques .
* It is vital that the individual never reacts impulsively to any cravings or high emotions. They can use delaying tactics to giver rational thinking a chance to resurface – for example, the individual pledges to delay their relapse for 24 hours.