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Slips and Relapses in Recovery

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Addiction is not a disease with a “cure.” Instead, sobriety requires the constant development and tweaking of strategies to maintain a healthy, sober mindset. Whether an individual is taking their first steps through a detox program or celebrating a sober anniversary, slips and relapse can always be a threat. 

Knowing the differences between slips and relapses and how they affect one’s sober journey can inform the proper action for refocusing on sobriety. While experiencing a slip or release is cause for action, it by no means indicates that sobriety is beyond reach. It only means that one needs to develop new strategies to sustain a healthy, sober future. 

Preparing for Hurdles

No part of sobriety is easy, and recovery is all about change. Despite your client’s progress in detox, residential, or outpatient programs, their journey with sobriety is rarely a linear path. Instead, it contains many peaks and lows. There will be days of significant progress and accomplishment and other days that feel stagnant. Their emotions may be fatigued or challenged due to change, stress, urges, or cravings. 

These experiences are all common, and creating an early relapse prevention plan can be the best strategy to respond to these stresses with informed, sober decisions. It is still possible to feel compelled to act on an urge or craving despite preparations. Knowing what to do if this does happen can help each person regain their sober focus and adjust to center on the recovery path again. 

The Difference Between a Slip and Relapse

While the terms “slip” and “relapse” may be used interchangeably, key differences differentiate the two. Understanding the difference between a slip and a relapse informs how to address the situation and the necessary steps to refocus on one’s sober goals.

What Is a Slip?

Slips in recovery describe situations where individuals may engage with addictive substances again, but only briefly before refocusing themselves, usually resulting from unexpected situations. For example, perhaps your client attended a social function where they did not expect alcohol to be present, took a sip of a drink before putting it back down again, and then proceeded to call for support. 

Slips can feel sudden, and an individual may feel caught off guard without proper coping strategies. Those who experience a slip are often consumed with feelings of guilt or shame and are still able to act in their own best interests. They can do this either by removing themselves from the situation or contacting their support for an escape plan. Slips typically indicate that additional strategies need to be tuned or developed. An individual may not necessarily experience a reversion to self-destructive or detrimental ways of thinking or substance use. 

The Dangers of Relapse

Relapse, however, is very different than a slip. When slips occur, they are typically followed by an individual regaining agency over the situation in some way or acknowledging the fault therein. Relapse is instead a return to previously destructive routines and practices. It comes with regularly active re-engagement with addictive substances and the mentality tied to their use. Previous social circles, hiding drugs or alcohol, erecting self-isolating barriers, and other self-destructive habits are all common in relapse. 

One may begin to view recovery programs or supports as hurdles to their use rather than supportive elements of a sober environment. Relapses can present a severe danger to those pursuing recovery and need to be addressed immediately to prevent further adverse effects from developing. 

Retaking Control

Despite the destructive effects of either a slip or relapse, it does not mean that your client is beyond help or that sobriety is somehow impossible. It does mean that action needs to be taken. Individuals need to understand why the slip or relapse occurred and find a safe space to detox and refocus on their sober future. 

Detoxing in a professional facility again can be instrumental for those battling relapse. It can ensure security measures are in place so that the stresses that initially caused such a relapse are not present. Discussing with professionals the context around one’s re-engagement of addictive substances can inform how they proceed with a new recovery plan. Some may benefit from returning to residential care to develop their coping strategies further. In contrast, others may be able to return to outpatient care to tweak existing relapse prevention strategies for the future. 

Navigating a relapse or slip does not mean that one is “restarting” their sober journey, even if returning to a residential care program. An individual’s practiced skills are still applicable. Unforeseen stresses or new experiences can all create new situations, and recovery is this continuous effort to adapt and overcome the trials in life healthily. 

Nobody is beyond sobriety, even if one does experience a slip or relapse. Detoxing and discussing with professionals can best inform the skills that still need development and which strategies are working to continue one’s path towards a sober future.

Slips and relapses are incredibly difficult to process, and navigating them is filled with many complex emotions. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we understand that battling slips and relapse is part of the journey. We can help you create a plan to prevent or overcome them in your continued journey to a healthy, sober future. From detox programs to residential care and intensive outpatient treatment, we can help you get back on the sober path at any stage in your recovery while personalizing your time with us to build the skills and strategies most effective for you. Our safe, intimate, and curated environment is designed to help you address your concerns while building new skills and ideas alongside understanding peers and professionals. For more information on how we can help you, call and speak with us today at (714) 492-1119.

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