Relapse is broadly defined as any use of drugs or alcohol during recovery, but some people are more restrictive in their terms than others. For example, some would describe even minimal use of prescription painkillers as a relapse even if a doctor gave the patient the prescription after a surgery or injury. Others say that taking certain detox medications in recovery is not true sobriety and that the person is technically relapsing until they are completely substance-free.
No matter how you classify those particular uses of prescription medications, most people recognize the difference between a “slip” and a “relapse” when it comes to the use of substances that are potentially addictive. A “slip” would be a single sip of alcohol, inadvertent or not. Perhaps the person felt the effects of that sip; perhaps they didn’t. A “relapse” is more of a drinking or using session that may last for hours or days. The user not only feels the effects but also gets and stays high or drunk purposefully.
Why are people so concerned about identifying relapses in such a specific way? Because there are huge risks when someone in recovery is in contact with any potentially addictive substance. One sip of alcohol, one drag on a joint, or a single night out spent drinking or getting high – any of these can trigger a host of problems that can be life-threatening, including:
- Addiction. After all the work done to overcome physical dependence in treatment, even an inadvertent slip or a doctor’s prescription can be enough to trigger a return to full-blown addiction. Big or small, a relapse can cause someone to feel nostalgic about the period of substance abuse in their life and/or view it as an escape from the current problems or boredom they’re experiencing in sobriety.
- Overdose. One of the most common times for an overdose to occur – especially a deadly overdose – is after a period of sobriety. The person’s body no longer has a tolerance to their drug of choice, but they may use the same amount when they relapse that they were using when they stopped getting high and overdose as a result.
- Backsliding in recovery. A relapse can make the patient feel as if they’ve lost everything they gained in recovery: the emotional progress, the progress in mental health treatment, and the progress accomplished toward personal life goals. This feeling can sabotage them more than the relapse itself, causing them to give up or feel as if they’ve lost the fight.
- Recurrence of physical health issues. Drugs and alcohol are toxins. Their use can exacerbate underlying medical issues or contribute to the development of chronic health problems and deadly diseases, especially if the person is living with liver problems, cardiac issues, or a chronic disease like hepatitis C that may have been caused by drug addiction.
Though relapse is common, it is not a necessary part of recovery and should be guarded against at all costs. The risks of indulging in “just one drink” are far too great. It’s just not worth the potential cost.
If relapse has become a chronic issue for you, and you are no longer able to stop using your drug of choice on your own, don’t wait to reach out for help. Contact us at Palm Beach Detox today.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.