Experiencing a relapse can be discouraging, but it’s not the end of the world.
If you are willing to acknowledge your mistake and seek the assistance of your treatment team, it’s possible to move forward in your recovery with confidence.
Distinguish Between a Slip and a Relapse
People in recovery sometimes use the terms slip and relapse interchangeably, but these words refer to two different experiences. Both involve using a previously abused substance, but a slip means that someone has quickly realized they made a mistake and remains committed to treatment. A relapse means that someone has actively decided to abandon their recovery plan and return to using.
A slip is usually considered less severe than a relapse, but this is a situation that still needs to be addressed by your treatment team. If you don’t look closer at what triggered the behavior, a slip may lead to a full-blown relapse.
Acknowledge that the Recovery Process Isn’t Always a Straight Line
Addiction is considered a chronic illness characterized by periods of relapse. It’s estimated that 40 to 60 percent of people with substance use disorders experience at least one relapse in their recovery journey. Individuals who have co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD face additional risks.
Making major life changes of any type often involves setbacks. For example, someone who is trying to lose weight might make steady progress for three or four months and then end up gaining five pounds due to overeating during a stressful period at work. The setback doesn’t mean that he or she is doomed to fail and should abandon all efforts to lead a healthier lifestyle. It simply means that losing weight is often a difficult process.
You are not a failure if you’ve experienced a relapse, nor does this mean that recovery isn’t possible for you. By detoxing and seeking treatment once, you’ve already made tremendous progress in your recovery journey.
Analyze What Went Wrong
It’s important to take the time to reflect on the conditions that led to your relapse. Knowing what conditions put your sobriety at risk makes it easier for you to move forward. For example:
- Did you attend all of your scheduled therapy appointments and 12-Step group meetings?
- Did you make time to eat nutritious meals, exercise regularly, and get the sleep your body needs?
- Did you experience stressful situations in your personal life?
- Did you have a support system in place you felt comfortable leaning on when you were experiencing problems?
- Did you engage in risky behavior because you were feeling overconfident about your recovery?
If you’ve been keeping a journal, looking back at past entries might offer some insight. Friends and family who’ve been with you throughout your recovery might have suggestions, but keep in mind that these individuals might not know the entire story.
Note that it’s often said that relapse happens in three stages:
- Emotional relapse: You’re dealing with stress, anger, or other unpleasant emotions. You’re not actively thinking about using, but you’re engaging in behaviors that put you at risk. For example, you might be bottling up your feelings and isolating yourself from others.
- Mental relapse: You’re thinking about using, glamorizing past use, rationalizing your actions, or actively planning how to get high. If you’re confronted about your actions, you are likely to lie about the seriousness of the situation.
- Physical relapse: You go back to using the abused substance and consciously decide to abandon your recovery efforts.
How long it takes to progress through these stages can vary. Some people may go through all three stages in just a few days, while others slowly progress to the act of physically using over an extended period of time.
Investigate Alternative Treatment Options
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating substance use disorders. Some people find outpatient treatment is sufficient, while others need the intensive support of a residential program. Some people find 12-Step groups such as AA to be a vital part of the recovery process, while others prefer secular alternatives such as SMART Recovery. Alternative treatments such as yoga, meditation, massage, and expressive arts therapy are growing in popularity as well. If one approach doesn’t work for you, there are many other options to consider.
At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, we believe that there’s always hope for recovery. If you’ve experienced a relapse, we will work with you to create a personalized care plan that will help you move forward with confidence.