What is relapse? It’s not drinking or using again after a short break to catch your breath. Most people misuse the word relapse. If a person stops using drugs for a short period then starts again with no recovery efforts or improvement in between – that’s just a continuation of addiction. All people with an alcohol or other drug addiction stop for short periods of time — the human body breaks down with uninterrupted use, so there are brief intervals in which the alcoholic or drug addict has to stop for a short period. Relapse is using drugs or drinking again after a period of improvement.
Addiction relapse is also considered a return to heavy, destructive, addictive use. If a person has had a period of improvement and drinks one beer, then realizes that this is crazy, calls someone and gets back into a recovery program, this is a lapse. This is from Everyday Health:
Addiction relapse is generally considered to be the return to substance use after a period of abstinence. However, according to James Garbutt, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a researcher at the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, “Relapse has different definitions. Some would say that it is a return to any amount of substance use, while others would say it is a return to heavy use. The medical profession states that a relapse is a return to destructive or heavier use.”
It’s an important distinction: If you drink one beer on one occasion, you have had a lapse. But if you are abusing regularly or your alcohol or drug abuse is causing negative consequences in any area of your life, you are having a relapse and need professional help.
I would only nitpick the word “abstinence” and substitute “a period of recovery and improvement”. I’m sure the author meant a period of improvement when writing abstinence. In treatment we focus on addiction relapse prevention through Recovery Management. Relapse triggers must be identified and dealt with. It’s not the end of the world if a person in recovery has a lapse or a relapse, but if the person relapses, there’s no guarantee that a return to recovery in imminent. Many people in recovery who relapse never make it back to recovery. It’s best to stay in recovery if you’re in recovery.
Terence Gorski has been one of the foremost authorities on relapse prevention. Go here to learn how to develop a relapse prevention plan – http://www.tgorski.com/gorski_articles/developing_a_relapse_prevention_plan.htm.