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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Relapse on the Road to Recovery

Lapse vs. Relapse

It is impossible to define what recovery will look for any one individual. That being said, it will be a journey of peaks and valleys. There may be times that you experience temptations or thoughts of using. This does not make you a failure; it makes you a human.  

“Relapse” is a common word that is frequently discussed in substance use recovery and treatment - but what does it really mean? 

There are many assumptions and myths about what a relapse is, and what it means for those in recovery. Let’s understand the difference between a lapse and a relapse, and address the misconceptions associated with these. 

What’s the Difference?

Lapse is defined as “a temporary failure of concentration, memory, or judgment”. 

Relapse is defined as “a deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement”. 

It is crucial to understand what these terms mean. The major difference is that a lapse is temporary, whereas a relapse represents a return to a pattern of behavior. A lapse is typically a one-time occurrence or a slip in recovery. Perhaps an individual experiences a moment of using a substance, but they choose to immediately stop the behavior after that occurrence. This decision allows the person to avoid a full relapse. A relapse, on the other hand, is when someone has been living in sobriety for any period of time, and then falls back into the habitual cycle of using. 

This resource uses the example of healthy eating to showcase an easy to understand example of the difference between a lapse and relapse. Say someone is trying to lose weight and eat nutrient-rich foods: they may experience a lapse if one night they eat a piece of chocolate cake. However, if that same person eats pizza and chocolate cake every day, and no longer engages in healthy eating habits, they most likely have relapsed. 

Debunking Myths

Misconception #1: It is inevitable that all people in substance use recovery will relapse

“...while relapse rates in recovery are high, it is not inevitable that every recovering (person living with addiction) will experience a relapse, and relapse is not unique to people with substance use disorders” - Rudolph C. Hatfield

Despite high numbers of individuals who experience relapse, this does not mean that relapse is unavoidable. The National Institute of Drug Abuse indicates that the relapse rates for substance use recovery (40-60%) are comparable to the relapse rates for any person who is trying to change behavior (30-70%). That means that it is difficult for anyone to change habits that are long-standing and enjoyable, even if they are maladaptive. 

Misconception #2: Relapse = lack of motivation

Recovery is never perfect because humans are not perfect. The process is challenging and is rarely devoid of speed bumps. There are many factors that contribute to the desire and use of substances, and it can be difficult to address and heal all of the complex layers involved. 

It is common for people to experience several failures before accomplishing a goal. It takes hard work, determination, motivation, and support to continue fighting despite making mistakes.

Misconception #3: Relapse means treatment has failed

Recovery is a unique and personalized journey. It requires a holistic approach to addressing a person’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral wellness. If relapse occurs, this is not an inherent sign that treatment is a waste of time, but rather is an indicator that perhaps adjustments can be made to the recovery plan to increase effectiveness and compliance. 

Misconception #4: If relapse occurs, all progress is lost

After a lapse or a relapse, this does not mean that all work up until this point is reversed. Everything you have learned in recovery does not disappear -- it is still within you! The changes made prior to the lapse or relapse can still support you in continuing your recovery journey. 

If an individual views their slip up as a mistake, rather than a personal failure, they are more likely to approach the lapse as an opportunity for learning and a tool to strengthen motivation. This can be a time to revisit coping skills, identify and prepare for triggers, and utilize social supports. 

Although relapse does not mean all progress is lost, it does indicate it is time to reach out and get help. Enlist the guidance of a professional treatment provider to discuss a collaborative approach that can assist you in learning from the relapse and continuing with recovery. 

Hope Still Exists - Recovery at The Haven at Pismo

Hope exists amidst relapse and sobriety remains a possibility. The most effective way to decrease the chances of relapse is to proactively prepare for the potential that it may occur. The Haven is here to help provide support and resources throughout recovery treatment and implement a relapse prevention plan that helps you no matter where you are in the recovery journey.