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What Is the Difference Between a Slip and a Relapse? Should I Go Back to Rehab

When you re-enter everyday life clean and sober after a detox or addiction treatment programme, this can feel like a miracle, particularly if you tried to find freedom for a prolonged period of time with frequent relapses back into old ways of behaving. Let us further understand what is the difference between a slip and a relapse.

It can feel frightening to consider that you might relapse again after such a hard-fought battle. However, for many, relapse is a normal part of the life-long journey of recovery from addiction. If you do find yourself in relapse, shaming yourself for this perceived failure may stop you from receiving the help you need. 

Relapse rates for addiction are akin to those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, but all chronic illnesses, including addiction, can be managed successfully with the right care and attention. 

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What Is a Relapse?

A relapse is when someone returns to using drugs, alcohol, or any other kind of addictive behaviour after a period of sobriety. Relapse is common as previous addictive acting out can alter how the brain functions long after the addictive behaviour has stopped. Understanding that addiction has this fundamental biological component may help explain the difficulty of achieving and maintaining sobriety without treatment and help those struggling with addiction to have compassion for themselves if relapse is experienced.

Navigating common psychological stressors of everyday life such as work, relationship issues, co-occurring mental illnesses, medical problems, and social or environmental cues associated with addiction can trigger cravings and lead to relapse. This is particularly common in early recovery when people are learning to live without the perceived soothing effects of addiction.

What to Do After a Relapse?

​​If you have relapsed, tell someone you trust and feel comfortable with. This might be a person you were in treatment with, someone you regularly see at 12-step meetings, a therapist or if you were an inpatient, the treatment centre you sought treatment from. There will be many people who understand, have compassion for you, and even identify having experienced relapse themselves.

Shaming yourself for relapsing will only prolong the relapse and perhaps prevent you from getting the help you need to find sobriety again. It is important to understand or remember that you have a chronic illness characterised by relapse which you are powerless over. Addiction and relapse are not moral issues and do not make you weak or bad. Relapses are a common part of recovery for some and returning to addictive behaviour does not mean that you have failed or cannot find freedom again. Long-term recovery is possible despite relapse.

What’s the Difference Between a Slip and a Relapse?

The terms slip and relapse is often used interchangeably so it can be confusing as to what each term means, particularly if people in your recovery community have differing opinions.

Most in recovery see a slip and a relapse as the same thing as they both involve losing sobriety, however, this does not take into consideration individual addictive behaviours. Most clinicians would look at someone’s intention to distinguish between a slip and a relapse.

A slip is generally viewed as a single, unplanned use of substances that does not lead to continued addictive acting out and abandonment of recovery. This might look like unknowingly consuming drugs or alcohol when served the wrong drink (non-alcoholic cocktail) or food (hash brownie), or misusing substances on a single occasion followed by a swift return to a recovery programme. To prevent further slips, it is important to learn from the experience, adjust your recovery programme if needed, and be honest with yourself and others about your slip. 

what is the difference between a slip and a relapse

A relapse is not an isolated incident but a prolonged return to addictive behaviour and rejection of recovery tools and services that have been put in place. This might mean you have made a conscious decision to abandon your recovery plan despite knowing the consequences. 

Whether you are calling a return to addictive use of substances a slip or relapse, such behaviour is a normal part of recovery and does not need to undermine your future free from addiction. A slip or relapse is just good information about your illness and the kind of support you need to live free from addiction. 

When Should I Go Back to Rehab?

Because drug addiction is a chronic disorder a short or single treatment period is usually not sufficient to prevent relapse. As with other chronic illnesses, relapses are common and reveal a potential need for further treatment or care plan adjustments. For many with the illness of addiction, recovery is a long-term process that involves consistent support.

If you are experiencing a relapse, know that it is a normal part of the recovery journey for many and should not be viewed as a failure. Unfortunately, many who relapse think, incorrectly, that their treatment hasn’t worked. 

Returning to treatment may not be required if you have experienced a single relapse incident but are still using your recovery tools. However, if you have experienced several slips in close succession and are starting to experience new or familiar negative consequences of addiction, it may be time to seek inpatient care to access the support you need. 

If you have decided that you would like to return to rehab, CATCH Recovery can help make a referral to one of our sister treatment centres Castle Craig or Smarmore Castle. 

What Are My Other Options?

If you are struggling with relapse you may not want to return to inpatient care. This might be due to finances, not being able to take more time off work, or even unnecessary embarrassment. There are other avenues you may want to explore beyond inpatient rehab.

Outpatient Rehab

The rehab where you received treatment may offer an aftercare programme such as group therapy, outpatient treatment and other support services that do not require you to go back to residential care.

If an outpatient programme is suitable for you to help end a relapse, there are many benefits including flexible scheduling, connection with people who are focused on recovery, and a reintroduction to everyday life with emotional support.

At CATCH Recovery there are a number of effective outpatient services that you may want to consider such as individual therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and recovery coaching. Outpatient treatment at CATCH Recovery offers you more flexibility than inpatient treatment, while still providing you with a high standard of care.

Support Groups

​​Group therapy as part of an outpatient programme is incredibly beneficial if you’re struggling with relapse as it increases your self-awareness through listening to the experiences of others in the group. These shared insights help you better understand your addiction and group members can provide support when you return to everyday life, both of which aid relapse prevention.

12-step recovery meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are free and powerful tools for tackling addiction, providing you with a community of like-minded people who understand what you are experiencing. Those in the 12-step recovery community can offer emotional support, and guidance, and share their own experience in recovering from addiction so they feel accepted and less alone.

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Where to Find Help

Relapse does not mean you will never experience sobriety again. It is a normal part of recovery that can be managed if you are willing to take certain steps.

If you are in relapse, you may be finding it difficult to understand what help you need, let alone make informed decisions. At CATCH Recovery, our team of caring professionals who understand relapse are here to help you. Feel free to call us for an obligation-free discussion on the services we offer to help you find freedom from addiction.

Disclaimer: The contents of this page are suggestive only and do not replace the advice of a medical professional. Medical advice should be sought when considering treatment for addiction and relapse.

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