Is Relapse Part of Recovery?

Written by Jackie Calkins

Relapse is a concern for anyone in early recovery and for the people who love them. Much research has been done into the causes of relapse over the past 20 years in an effort to make addiction treatment more effective. This has paid off in the form of modern alcohol and drug treatment centers like JourneyPure at the River which use evidence-based methods of addiction treatment to improve outcomes. But with relapse still a relatively common occurrence, lots of people are still asking the question: Is relapse a part of recovery?

What is Relapse?

Before we drill down, let’s define relapse clearly. In terms of drug and alcohol use, a relapse is when a person who has committed to not using any drugs or alcohol, drinks or uses drugs. But that’s a simple definition for a very complex issue. The reasons why people relapse are complicated and so are the feelings people have about this sensitive issue. No one wants to relapse, but relapse is sometimes a reality nonetheless.

Two Things to Remember About Relapse 

1.) Shame and guilt aren’t useful. Let them go. 

People often feel ashamed or guilty after a relapse. You might feel like you’ve failed yourself or disappointed others and let them down. It’s very important to be accountable for your actions, if you picked up, own it. But that doesn’t mean beating yourself up about it or feeling ashamed. It also doesn’t mean it’s okay for someone else to try to make you feel bad about it. Try not to dwell on what’s past and focus on doing the right thing, right now. Get to a meeting. Talk to others in recovery, even if it’s uncomfortable. Keep moving forward and leave shame and guilt in your rearview. 

2.) The truth shall set you free. 

What we mean by this is simple. If you relapse, tell someone. Be 100% honest about what happened. Honesty is one of the cornerstones of recovery. There are few problems that letting some sunlight into the room won’t solve, or at least improve upon. You will feel better the moment you tell someone. The other truth to remember here is that you know what to do. If you’re in recovery and relapse occurs, your next steps are usually pretty clear. If you’re not sure, asking your sponsor or a recovery support should set you straight. Once you know what to do, get to it. Don’t wallow in self-pity or shame. You don’t have time for it. Keep moving forward. 


When Does Relapse Begin?

It’s been said that relapse begins before you ever pick up a drink or a drug. Like most sayings you hear in the fellowships, this one has a lot of truth to it and it’s well-worth remembering. What it means is that relapse almost never occurs spontaneously. It’s a process. It usually begin when we begin to allow a little slack in our program of recovery. It may be something as seemingly innocent as telling a lie. One lie leads to another. Perhaps we feel guilty about lying, or the lie leads to resentment or anxiety. 

However the thread unravels, when you lose your honesty, your recovery is in jeopardy. The easier it becomes to lie, the easier it is to tell yourself it’s okay to use or drink ‘just this once’. Before you know it, you’re caught up in a web of lies and hiding your using from others again. The key here is remembering that the relapse starts before you touch a drug or a drink. It begins with behavior and thinking. If your behavior and thinking are straying from what you’ve been taught in recovery, then it’s time for some self-correction.


Why Do Addicts Relapse?

The reasons for relapse are many. Most of us used and drank to change the way we feel. So, getting some upsetting news, like a death in the family or finding out a partner has been unfaithful can be a powerful trigger for relapse. Sometimes good news can be a trigger. Maybe you win $1000 on a scratch off lottery ticket and the urge to use just seems to appear out of nowhere. 

Addiction is tricky. It comes at us from all different angles. But remember what we said earlier about the importance of honesty? Sometimes that means telling on ourselves. If you get a powerful urge to use, tell someone you trust right away. If you go through some intense emotions, make sure the people you trust in recovery know about it. Stay close to them. Closer than usual.  


Is Relapse Part of Recovery?

Yes, relapse is a part of recovery for many people. That doesn’t mean relapse is a requirement though and it’s definitely not a good reason to pick up a drug or a drink. You have no doubt heard the saying that “recovery is a journey” or something similar. What that means is, we don’t go to treatment and get “cured” of our addiction. You don’t just “recover” and then you’re fixed forever. Recovery is a lifestyle. A lifelong process. It’s an activity and a way of thinking and looking at ourselves and the world that we maintain. Recovery, like life, is cyclical. It ebbs and flows. It has highs and lows.


Keep on Keepin’ On

The secret to recovery is learning to ride those highs and lows and level out the peaks and valleys. It takes time and practice, but it gets easier. Sometimes the lows get the better of us and, yes, sometimes that results in a relapse. But relapse doesn’t mean “game over”. It doesn’t mean your points drop back down to zero and you have to start everything over again. You still hold onto every bit of experience and every lesson you’ve learned in recovery so far.

While the number on your coin or key tag might be lower and that doesn’t always feel great, the fact is you’re a miracle. You’re still in the fight. And we’ll let you in on a little secret: The quality of your recovery is more important than the quantity of it. And the fact is that you get to control the quality of your recovery EVERY DAY. So if you’re looking for a place to direct that nervous energy, plow it into your program. Do some service work. Pick up a new meeting. Make a new friend in recovery. Invest in yourself, you’re worth it! 


JourneyPure has Answers. Call us.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, JourneyPure at the River wants to help. We have substance abuse treatment programs that can fit almost anyone’s life and needs. Whether you are looking for a long term residential or PHP program with community housing or you just need outpatient treatment and MAT, we’ve got you. Give us a call at (615) 410-9260 and we’ll answer your questions about addiction and treatment and tell you what we can do for you or your loved one.