There are important differences between a slip and a relapse, but this difference isn’t always easy to see when a slip occurs while you’re in treatment for substance abuse in Princeton or New York. When you stay abstinent for a long period of time only to slip back into old habits, it can make you feel like all of your progress has been lost in an instant, that all of your hard work up to that point was for nothing, leading to a negative, pessimistic, defeatist attitude that turns what could have been a temporary setback into a full-blown destructive relapse.
This phenomenon, known by therapists as the abstinence violation effect (AVE), is a common cause of premature drop-out from substance abuse treatment. People who experience the AVE often feel that:
- Their progress up to that point has been wasted
- They have failed personally and will continue to fail
- Their slip was due to personal weakness or a lack of willpower
- They are guilty of letting others down (like friends, family or therapist)
- Their conflicting identities of successful abstainer and relapsed user cannot be reconciled
If you slip, you may feel shame, embarrassment, or a lack of trust in yourself, and this defeatism can spill over into other aspects of your life. But it’s important to remember that a slip never has to become a relapse—slips can even play an important role in your recovery by helping you reassess your treatment and learn how to prevent further setbacks in the future.
The potential impact of the AVE is it an important issue to address for relapse prevention. Knowing how the AVE can affect you is a start, but it may also help to learn how to respond to a slip in a safer way and thus prevent it from becoming a full-blown relapse:
- Use the slip as a learning experience. Although you may regret that the slip occurred, you shouldn’t allow it to dishearten you. Take it seriously and learn from it, then move on.
- Talk honestly about the slip. Speaking with your addiction therapist and support group about the slip will help you to better identify what led up to it.
- Think about the slip’s contributing factors. What elements of your lifestyle could have led to the slip? Examine moods, behaviors, and attitudes that may have compounded the problem.
- Return to the strategies that will prevent further slips. Rather than giving in to defeatism, seek the routines, support, and activities that will help you retain your abstinence.
- Stay committed to your treatment for substance abuse. Never give up on treatment—instead, increase your efforts to participate in treatment and recovery groups.
The complex feelings people experience after a slip can make it feel like all hope is lost, but this is never the case. You can always make the choice to continue your treatment, and the things you learn from a slip can even make your resolve to stay abstinent stronger as you move forward. Don’t let the defeatism of the AVE force you out of treatment—use slips to grow more focused on progress rather than regressing to former habits.