A Slip is Not Always a Fall: Rethinking Relapse

The myth that every slip in addiction recovery is a relapse must end.

Is Relapse Always A Part of Recovery?

“Sometimes, though it doesn't need to be.”

The Current Definition of Relapse Doesn’t Reflect Reality

This belief that recovery is all or nothing and that relapse has no grey area is not only wrong but harmful. It perpetuates shame and fear. It also allows for the continued utilization of treatment services that may not be effective for the person experiencing a down period in their recovery.

When a person experiences a slip and they feel they have supports that they can reach out to…They can see that their illness has improved because this time, instead of letting the slip become a fall, they were able to be caught by their own abilities and the support of others.

Relapse is a Spectrum

The Reaction is A Key Part of the Result

When a person is in recovery has a down period and they use a substance, I think the general reaction is that healthcare providers, family members, other supports, and even the person themself go to the extreme. Sometimes they respond out of fear and sometimes that fear comes across as anger. Sometimes they feel like “how could this happen, you went to treatment and you are better now.” There is a view that even the tiniest of slips is a means for the whole process to come undone.

But that’s not always the case. It is perfectly ok for people to have slips along the way. It is the reaction to these slips both personally and from others that may actually contribute to the outcome. Negative reactions to a slip can contribute to a fuller undoing of the recovery work that’s been accomplished and potentially relapse. Positive interactions that offer support and inspire hope could very well act as a protective factor against addiction disease from coming back full force.

Positive Responses Lead to Positive Change

Slips and Relapses Are Not Unique to Addiction Recovery

We need to adopt this mentality for people with addiction disease when they experience a slip in their recovery. There is obviously a lot of past traumatic experiences that go into the responses to slips, but we don’t have to jump to the extremes of extraordinary shaming and fear tactics. We can instead choose to understand that slips happen. We can instead choose to sit with the person and listen to them about what led to it. We can instead choose to respond with compassion and offer support to strengthen the person’s ability to react to pressure and stress.

Slips Are Not Relapses and They Do Not Always Result in Them

When a person experiences a slip and they feel they have supports that they can reach out to, supports that respond with compassion, and offer support instead of shame, we allow people to see that they are still in recovery. They can see that their illness has improved because this time, instead of letting the slip become a fall, they were able to be caught by their own abilities and the support of others. This is progress. This is positive change. This is recovery.

Mental Health Professional, Synesthete, Foodie. My Real Housewives Intro would be: “I’m loud and Profound.”