Stopping a Slip From Becoming a Relapse

Posted on March 3, 2015

Is Relapse Inevitable in Addiction Recovery?
Julie Myers, Psy.D.

Slip Or RelapseFor many with serious substance abuse problems, any drug or alcohol use can be problematic. These people must abstain. If they drink or drug again, they can slip into full-blown relapse, even after months or years of abstinence. For some, even a brief lapse may generate so much self-doubt, guilt, and a belief about personal failure, that the person gives up and continues to use. This tendency is referred to as the abstinence violation effect.

So does this mean that even a brief lapse must lead to a full-blown relapse? Does it mean a person must continue to drink or drug until the use returns to the initial level? Is spiraling out of control inevitable? Simply put, no. A lapse need not become a relapse. After a slip, you have not unlearned all that you have learned. You have not unchanged all that you have changed in your life to support your recovery. You do not have to start counting again from day one.

If you view your lapse as a mistake and as a product of external triggers, rather than as a personal failure, research shows that you will have a much better chance of return to abstinence quickly. Your lapse becomes a tool to move forward and to strengthen your motivation to change, your identification of triggers and urge-controlling techniques, your rational coping skills, and the lifestyle changes needed to lead a more balanced life.

Does this mean that a person should view these lapses as a good thing? Of course not! Clearly, if one wants to abstain, lapses are not preferred. But by recognizing that mistakes can happen and learning how to quickly right oneself, long-term abstinence can be achieved. Lapses may occur, but relapse is not inevitable.

Reprinted with permission from SMART Recovery San Diego
Copyright (2012) Julie Myers, PysD: Psychologist in San Diego. All Rights Reserved.

11 thoughts on “Stopping a Slip From Becoming a Relapse

  1. Victor McCormack

    As the founder of a drug rehab centre and a former addict myself I speak from experience when I say that lapses are very often a part of the journey to recovery and I absolutely agree with the view that lapses shouldn’t be seen as a personal failure.

  2. JudithAnn

    After 6 months, a year or more of sobriety, I will get this
    idea that I can have a drink or two a the end of the day.
    And it never works. I will just believe that I
    can drink and that I will find some magic formula.

    And then I get so involved with trying to figure it out, that I stop living the life I want.

    Good Grief

    1. HughK

      LOL JudithAnn,

      With you all the way!

      Even after 21 months my “addictive voice; PIG; Wile E Coyote – Super Genius” keeps looking for opportunities to sneakily suggest I can go backwards.


      Now I just reply, OMG you are a genius! You’ve never steered me wrong in the past! Of course I’ll do this totally unhelpful thing! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat! 🙂

      At least you ARE living the life you want before you listen to yon genius 🙂

    2. mark

      i was clean for 2 weeks, after years of drinking…and I felt great. Suddenly I got this idea of doing the ribs, that we used to marinate in …rum – seemed like a great idea, or an excuse I should rather say. Ribs were great btw…Then I said to my wife, let’s have a glass of wine with it – I am ok…
      Guess what, I am not ok – we are on a holiday in Mexico now and I am struggling with the Happy Hour and tequilas that come with it… I need to fight again !

  3. Cheryl Edwards

    Husband and I choose to have 2 glasses of wine on Fri and Sat. By wed, I snuck some wine in my tea. But I don,t feel like a relapse. I’m not ready for abstaining. But I,ve cut back 6/8th of the time. I always eat with any alcohol.

  4. Pingback: Stopping a Slip From Becoming a Relapse | Addiction Newstand

  5. Tina Littlewood

    I’m not sure what I’m meant to do here.
    Can someone please help me out
    Thank you

  6. Reid K. Hester, Ph.D.

    You’re correct in that lapses are not inevitable. On the other hand, few people learn all they need to know to stay sober without some slips or mistakes. I couldn’t agree more with your take on viewing a lapse as a learning experience. There’s solid clinical research showing that way of addressing a lapse reduces the likelihood of a lapse becoming a full blown relapse episode. We take this approach to lapses and relapse in our web app for SMART Recovery.

  7. T. M.

    keep your head up it’s all part of recovery just pick yourself up dust off and get back on the sunny path,and know that you are worth the fight and there are people who love you.peace,love and happiness.

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