Once a person has recovered from an illness, they are considered to have relapsed if the signs and symptoms of that illness return. Addiction relapse can occur with many different illnesses, but the word is commonly associated with addiction.
When in recovery from addiction, relapse is a constant threat because there is always the possibility of the illness returning, no matter how long the person has been in recovery. The difference between relapse from addiction and other illnesses is that with addiction, treatment is almost always necessary. Once a former addict has relapsed, it is unlikely that the illness will go away by itself.
Relapse is a constant worry for those in recovery and there are many assumptions that are made about it. However, there are a number of myths relating to relapse that should be considered. Below are a few examples:
- Relapse starts when a person drinks or takes drugs again. Many people believe that relapse only starts once a recovering addict reaches for drugs or alcohol again, but the reality is that relapse begins the moment that person starts thinking about drinking or using. If the individual starts thinking that it would be okay to have one drink or one line of cocaine, for example, despite knowing that this could destroy everything he or she has worked for, they are in danger of relapsing.
- Relapse is inevitable. While relapse is quite common among recovering addicts, with some relapsing a number of times before getting clean, it is not unavoidable. Some people assume they are definitely going to have at least one slip-up, and some even go so far as to deliberately drink or take drugs just to get their slip up out of the way. The truth is that many recovering addicts never relapse and go on to live long and healthy sober lives.
- Relapse equals failure. Some individuals find that relapse actually improves their commitment to sobriety. For them, it is an important aspect of their recovery journey because they find that they were not as serious about recovery until they find themselves back in the clutches of addiction again. Once they realise that they cannot drink or take drugs safely, they become more motivated to stay clean for good.
- You cannot prevent a relapse. It is entirely possible to prevent relapse by learning to spot the signs and knowing what triggers a compulsion to drink or take drugs. This is something an addict will work on during his or her recovery, and there are certain situations that should be avoided to help reduce the risk of relapse. As long as one can spot the warning signs and know how to deal with them, a relapse can be prevented.
- You have not relapsed if you use a different substance. Many people believe that if they drink alcohol during recovery from drug addiction, it does not count as a relapse and vice versa. However, the choice of substance used is not the issue; the fact is that the person has chosen to use a chemical substance when in recovery, and relapse is more to do with the addictive behaviours than the choice of drug.
Being worried about relapse is a good thing because it means being serious about sobriety. One of the most important aspects of relapse prevention is avoiding temptation. While some temptations may be obvious, others may be less so. Nevertheless, as long as the signals and cues can be recognised, staying on the straight and narrow should be achievable. It is also important to know how to deal with these subtle signals as this is the best way to ensure recovery stays intact.