Relapse vs Slip in Recovery: Knowing the Difference

Written by Chloe Nicosia

A slip in recovery isn’t the same thing as relapse, but a slip can lead to relapse.

Recovery from an addiction isn’t easy, and early recovery can be challenging. A slip in recovery isn’t the end of the world, and even if it leads to a relapse, a slip doesn’t mean that treatment didn’t work or that there’s no hope for successful long-term recovery.┬áBut what is the definition of slip in recovery, and what is the difference between a slip vs relapse? Understanding these terms and what they mean for your recovery is crucial for staying on track for the long-term.

The Definition of Slip in Recovery

A slip in recovery is an instance of using drugs or alcohol again once you’ve been sober for a time. While a slip was once considered to be a catastrophe for recovery, it’s now widely considered to be a normal–and even expected–part of the recovery process.

Addiction is characterized by changes in the brain that lead to compulsive drug or alcohol use despite negative consequences, such as relationship, health, legal, or financial problems. These brain changes affect your thought and behavior patterns, leading to dysfunctional ways of thinking and behaving. Just as it takes time to develop an addiction and the faulty thought and behavior patterns that come with it, it takes time to re-learn healthy ways of thinking and behaving and develop the skills you need to stay sober for the long-term.

During addiction treatment, addicted individuals develop a toolkit of skills and strategies to help keep them on track with sobriety. It takes practice to master these skills, and until you do, the risk of a slip is rather high.

Slip vs Relapse: Neither Means Treatment Didn’t Work

Although there’s a difference between a slip vs relapse, both are indications of a missing skill. A slip in recovery can lead to a relapse of the addiction, which occurs when brain function changes once again, leading to the dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns and compulsive drug or alcohol use associated with addiction. Once a slip leads back to addiction, the relapse typically requires professional intervention once again.

One of the most important things to understand about recovery from an addiction is that a slip in recovery is not the end of the world, and neither is a relapse. Slips and relapses are considered to be indications of a missing skill, such as coping skills for handling stress, cravings, and other relapse triggers. Once you develop that skill, you’re less likely to slip or relapse again.

A Positive Attitude and Swift Intervention Are Essential

After a slip in recovery, it’s essential to get help determining what went wrong and correct the problem before the slip leads to relapse. How you approach a slip or relapse is also very important. According to an article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, people who view a slip negatively are less likely to get back on track with recovery quickly and successfully. Instead of beating yourself up and feeling like you’ve failed in your recovery, it’s essential to consider all the progress you’ve made so far and choose to build on that progress. Developing the missing skills that led to the slip or relapse will ensure you come back to recovery even stronger and more motivated than ever to succeed.

For some people, it takes a few slips or relapses before things stick, and that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal. The important thing is to learn from the slip and be ever vigilant in the future of the triggers that led to it.

If you slip in recovery, don’t lose hope, which will only make things worse. Instead, reach out to your sponsor, your therapist, or your aftercare case manager, who will help you get right back on track.

Remember that recovery is a process. It’s a constant state of becoming, and slips are par for the course. Look at a slip as a teachable moment, learn all you can from it, and move forward, focused on your progress and your hope for a better future free of addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.