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What is the Difference Between a Slip and a Relapse?

The Difference Between a Slip and a Relapse: Are They the Same or Not?

Are you wondering about the difference between a slip and a relapse? Although many people consider them the same thing, there is a difference. A relapse involves abandoning sobriety and returning to a pretreatment lifestyle of drinking and drugging. A slip, on the other hand, means the substance abuser resumes drinking or drugging for a short period, typically a few hours or a day, and then returns to treatment and/or resumes a sober lifestyle.

Slips tend to occur due to momentary lapses in judgment when the addict or alcoholic is stressed out and caught unaware. Relapses are often premeditated events that follow a downward spiral in recovery, spirituality, emotions and/or thinking. In many cases, those closest to the substance abuser can see a relapse coming before the addict does.

Do Most Recovering Substance Abusers Slip or Relapse?

After a period of sobriety, it’s not uncommon for recovering substance abusers to slip or relapse. Although there are some addicts and alcoholics who complete treatment and remain clean and sober for life, it’s more common for a recovering person to have at least one slip or relapse at some point in their recovery.

This might happen numerous times, where the recovering person “goes back out” and then resumes a sober lifestyle. Research indicates that most slips or relapses occur during the first three months of recovery and that up to 95 percent of those who complete a drug and alcohol treatment program experience at least one slip or relapse during the five years following treatment.

What Happens When A Substance Abuser Has a Slip or Relapse?

One of two things usually follow a relapse or a slip. In the best case scenario, the addict or alcoholic understands that they have made a poor choice and quickly contacts a sponsor, a counselor, or a treatment aftercare program to get help. They might even reenter treatment.

The worst case scenario is when the substance abuser tells no one about the slip, has no desire to resume a sober lifestyle and is not willing to get help. A common mistake addicts make after a slip is to continue drinking and using because, since they have already had a slip, they might as well drink or drug for a few weeks and have some fun before going back to sobriety. For some, a few weeks turns into a few years, while others never make it back at all.

What Separates Those Who Resume Sobriety From Those Who Don’t?

Recovering substance abusers who slip have a better chance to recover than those who relapse. Those who slip are able to get back on track quickly and understand that a slip is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. On the other hand, those who relapse are often overcome with negative feelings about themselves. They may decide that recovery does not work and that they are hopeless cases.

Those who slip and quickly return to sobriety are usually willing to see the slip as a learning experience, a mistake they can learn from. Although it’s embarrassing to admit to a slip, admitting it is the key to overcoming it. Feelings of failure and unworthiness can be overpowering, but it’s always better to face these feelings and ask for help than to run from the feelings and continue the downward spiral that defines a life of active alcoholism and drug addiction. In the end, the difference between a slip and a relapse is that those who slip get back up, while those who relapse may stay down.

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