When people describe their addiction and recovery process, it’s common to use the terms ‘slip’ and ‘relapse’ in different ways, sometimes interchangeably. That’s because each individual’s experience with addiction and the life-long recovery that follows is a deeply personal one. Addiction counselors and other mental health care professionals, on the other hand, distinguish between the two terms, and recognize the fine line between a slip and a relapse. Read on to determine how to draw that fine line, and what to do when you find yourself on either side of it.
Slip versus relapse: The fundamental difference
The basic difference between a slip and a relapse ultimately has to do with how long it takes for the individual to get back into recovery. For instance, a person who goes to a bar with a group of friends with the intention of just drinking water may slip into old patterns that night. Someone hands them a drink, which eventually leads to many more. The next day, they immediately return to sobriety and have experienced a brief slip. On the other hand, if they continue consuming alcohol, they risk going into relapse.
The same thing goes for drug usage. Suppose a person accidentally consumes a brownie that has marijuana, which then leads to more drug consumption that night. If they are able to return to stop usage the next day and return to treatment, what happened the night before is a slip. However, as days, weeks, or months go by and they have fallen back into their old patterns of addiction, they are experiencing a relapse.
The bottom line:
A slip is temporary, unintentional, and may even occur accidentally. If you intentionally and repeatedly return to your old addiction habits as time passes, you’re in relapse.
How a slip turns into a relapse
When a person has a slip, it can be a terrifying experience. There is the real possibility that the slip could turn into a permanent relapse from which they may not be able to recover. The thought of this possibility, compounded with feelings of shame and guilt, can cause a paralysis and a sense of hopelessness that draw them further into their old patterns.
Dealing with a relapse
If you find that you are returning to your old behaviors — intentionally and repeatedly consuming the alcohol or drugs — you’re probably in relapse. When this happens, how you feel about your relapse and what you do about it is crucial to finding your way back.
1. Manage how you feel.
Know that many people in recovery for alcohol or drug addiction, if not most, experience at least one or two relapses. It’s vital that the individual understand this so that they don’t allow themselves to become overwhelmed by guilt and a sense of hopelessness.
2. Learn from your relapse.
Use your experience instead as a way to figure out what went wrong. And reach out to peers, family, and professionals for support and to help you examine at the triggers that caused your relapse.
3. Change your routine.
Change the parts of your routine that left you vulnerable. Avoid the people, situations, and contexts that triggered the return to substance use.
4. Most importantly, take action.
The first step to returning to recovery is reaching out for help. When a person experiences a relapse, it can feel almost impossible to face the journey back to sobriety alone, and they need to start or return to a trusted rehabilitation program.
If you have relapsed, know that you’re not alone. Prominence Treatment Center of Malibu is a leading rehabilitation center that combines evidence-based treatments with holistic health service to address the underlying causes of addiction. Let the expert staff at Prominence Treatment Center help you rise above addiction.