Is Relapse Inevitable in Addiction Recovery?
Julie Myers, Psy.D.
For many with serious substance abuse problems, any drug or alcohol use can be problematic. These people must abstain. If they drink or drug again, they can slip into full-blown relapse, even after months or years of abstinence. For some, even a brief lapse may generate so much self-doubt, guilt, and a belief about personal failure, that the person gives up and continues to use. This tendency is referred to as the abstinence violation effect.
So does this mean that even a brief lapse must lead to a full-blown relapse? Does it mean a person must continue to drink or drug until the use returns to the initial level? Is spiraling out of control inevitable? Simply put, no. A lapse need not become a relapse. After a slip, you have not unlearned all that you have learned. You have not unchanged all that you have changed in your life to support your recovery. You do not have to start counting again from day one.
If you view your lapse as a mistake and as a product of external triggers, rather than as a personal failure, research shows that you will have a much better chance of return to abstinence quickly. Your lapse becomes a tool to move forward and to strengthen your motivation to change, your identification of triggers and urge-controlling techniques, your rational coping skills, and the lifestyle changes needed to lead a more balanced life.
Does this mean that a person should view these lapses as a good thing? Of course not! Clearly, if one wants to abstain, lapses are not preferred. But by recognizing that mistakes can happen and learning how to quickly right oneself, long-term abstinence can be achieved. Lapses may occur, but relapse is not inevitable.
Reprinted with permission from SMART Recovery San Diego
Copyright (2012) Julie Myers, PysD: Psychologist in San Diego. All Rights Reserved.