How to recognize and recover from lapses in abstinence
If you’re a patient of drug abuse counseling, relapse is an ever-looming threat. Overcoming drug abuse and dependence is a process that will necessitate great changes in your life, making the possibility of relapse great for those who haven’t yet developed the coping skills or attitude necessary to put drug use behind them for good. Though everyone has different triggers, relapse threatens all recovering addicts, particularly during their first six months of abstinence.
Straying from your drug treatment plan can be dangerous, but no setback is insurmountable. Especially in the early days of recovery, you may experience lapses in abstinence that, if handled correctly, will not keep you from achieving a drug-free lifestyle. To help you better understand how relapse can impede your recovery, and the best ways to avoid or bounce back from one, it may be useful to first take a look at the difference between relapse and another common bump in the road for recovering addicts: the slip.
A slip is a fleeting lapse in abstinence that will not necessarily bring your progress to a grinding halt. Though this should not be taken as a statement that condones slips, these mistakes may even help you learn to overcome your addiction and develop careful strategies to avoid slipping again in the future.
Slips are usually unplanned and impulsive, frequently arising from a continued ambivalence toward cessation from drug use. Unconscious desires can often lurk unnoticed between an otherwise dedicated surface, threatening to emerge in a sudden and strong desire to use.
Most common in the early days of recovery, slips are less damaging than relapses but can still put you at serious risk. They can rekindle cravings, prompt you to doubt that addiction is a problem, lead you to engage in further irresponsible behavior or reinitiate contact with other users and dealers, impair your judgment and otherwise slow your progress. Feeling remorseful or determined after a slip may indicate that you’re ready to maintain abstinence, but playing down the importance of one may indicate that you haven’t yet developed the receptive attitude needed for real change.
Relapse happens when a slip gets out of control and spirals into a return to patterns of drug use. Those who relapse often experience a change in attitude that completely reverses the desire to pursue an abstinent lifestyle, causing them to cease treatment entirely.
The key difference between a slip and a relapse is not in the amount of drugs you use, but rather how that drug use affects your intentions to seek recovery. A slip has become a relapse if you drop out of treatment, refuse offers of help and/or fail to return to an abstinent lifestyle soon after the slip has occurred. Relapse is usually a serious impediment of progress, causing you to backslide to an earlier stage of recovery. Because of this, relapse can be very dangerous—sometimes even fatal.
Recognizing the difference between a slip and a relapse will help to get you back on the road to recovery after a setback. Though relapse is a very real threat to all recovering addicts, remember that slips, especially in the first few months of treatment, do not mean that your progress so far has been for nothing. By recognizing the triggers that are most likely to cause you to relapse and maintaining a positive outlook for change, you can minimize the threat of a slip or relapse and stay on the path to an abstinent life.