What is a Relapse?

A relapse can be defined as a return to substance use after an intentional period of abstinence. When a relapse occurs, individuals may resume use at either a higher or lower rate than previously experienced.

Another word used to describe a relapse is lapse. Typically lapse is used to describe a very short, or sometimes one time recurrence of use. For example, if an individual had been abstinent for a period of 6 months and then attended a wedding and had a few drinks, but returned to treatment and or a support group the following day- that might be considered a lapse.

Does Relapse Mean Failure?

The short answer is a resounding no. Substance use disorder is a chronic illness. With that comes the possibility of relapse especially early into recovery. The longer an individual is in recovery, the less likely a relapse becomes, but the possibility can never truly be eliminated altogether.

In some cases,¬† a relapse can be an opportunity to further strengthen one’s recovery. Part of treatment after a relapse includes a sort of post-mortem examination of the relapse. This allows for learning and decreases the likelihood of relapse in the future.

Why Does Relapse Happen?

Reasons for relapse can be broken up into two distinct groups. These are internal factors and external factors. Below is a list of the most common internal and external factors.

Internal Factors:

-Ineffective or lack of coping skills

-Cognitive distortions 

-Emotional highs or lows

-Poor self-esteem

-Euphoric recall (focusing on the positives of substance use while disregarding the negatives)

External Factors:

-Social influences

-Access to substances

-Exposure to cues/triggers for past substance use and/or risk behaviors.

-Withdrawal or Post Acute Withdrawal (treatment is available and can be extremely helpful in this area)

-Poor Self-Care including poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, or lack of management of mental health symptoms

-Lack of Ongoing Support can be a huge factor leading to relapse. Ongoing outpatient care and membership in self-help groups can help tremendously

Here at Harbor Wellness and Recovery Center, we offer various levels of care to treat addiction, substance use disorder, alcoholism, and co-occurring conditions such as depression and anxiety. For more information about our services please call us directly at 732-847-4555. We are available 24/7 to help. All calls are no obligation and are strictly confidential.