Although “lapse” and “relapse” are terms that are used interchangeably, they aren’t the same thing. A lapse is a slip-up, or an instance of using drugs or alcohol again once in recovery. A relapse, on the other hand, is the recurrence of an addiction, characterized by compulsive drug or alcohol abuse despite negative consequences. While a lapse may lead to a relapse of the addiction, it doesn’t always. Addiction relapse rates are similar to those for other chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Relapse is not only possible in recovery, it’s likely; in fact, depending on the drug, up to 60 percent of people in recovery will relapse, and up to 90 percent will lapse without relapsing.
Relapse Doesn’t Mean Treatment Failed
There was a time when relapse was considered a catastrophic event that meant addiction treatment had failed. These days, addiction experts view relapse as the norm rather than the exception, and relapse is now considered an opportunity to re-evaluate the treatment plan, determine what missing skills led to the lapse and relapse and develop those skills to help prevent another relapse. It takes time to develop an addiction, and by the same token, it takes time to change the deeply embedded behaviors that characterize addiction. Sometimes, it takes trial and error to develop new patterns of thought and behavior, and relapse is often an important part of this process.
Responding to Relapse
How an individual deals with a setback in recovery plays an important role in continued recovery. A setback doesn’t have to be a relapse. It can be any behavior that leads someone closer to relapse, such as neglecting self-care, skipping support group meetings or putting oneself in high-risk situations. Helping your child handle a setback in a healthy way—whether or not the setback involves a lapse or relapse—is crucial for ensuring his continued successful recovery. People who regard a setback as a personal failure tend to be extra hard on themselves, and they often stop focusing on the positive progress they’ve made and instead view continued recovery as an overwhelming task that may not even be possible. At the same time, those who view recovery as an “all-or-nothing” endeavor may abandon their long-term recovery goals altogether if a lapse or relapse occurs. Helping your child view a lapse or relapse as an opportunity to assess her skills, determine what went wrong and make changes to the recovery plan—and then supporting her efforts to do so—is the best way to help her get back on track.
What Happens After Relapse?
The most important thing to do after a lapse or relapse is to get your child professional help immediately. Talk to your physician, your child’s counselor or the case worker who oversees his aftercare plan to determine what steps should be taken. Getting your child back into treatment or therapy will be essential for delving into the issues behind the initial lapse and assessing for missing skills. Depending on the circumstances and your child’s history of drug or alcohol abuse, amending the aftercare plan to include more therapy sessions and support group meetings may be sufficient to help your child get back on the road to recovery, while in other cases, a short, intensive outpatient program or inpatient treatment may be necessary. In the meantime, let your child know that you haven’t given up hope, and neither should he. Despite the challenges and setbacks that are common in overcoming an addiction, successful recovery is always possible. To learn more about relapse and best responses, give us a call at 877-466-0620.