5 Myths About Relapse Debunked

Here’s the truth about some of the most common misconceptions on relapse.



Just as the road to addiction recovery looks different for everyone, so does the recovery process. Not everyone will rely on the 12-Step Program to guide their recovery (there are many effective alternatives). Likewise, not everyone will experience relapse in the same way, or at all!


However, there are many harmful myths and ideas about relapse that are frequently spread and shared. Viewing these misconceptions as truth can be very damaging and may increase the likelihood that you’ll revert to a lifestyle of active addiction.


To combat these harmful myths, we’re going to debunk them for you. Of course, you’ll need to come to your own conclusions but here’s the truth about some of the most common misconceptions about relapse.


1. “It’s okay to use as long as I don’t use ‘hard’ drugs.”

You might find yourself thinking that you can just have one drink or one puff of marijuana and you’ll be fine. But, this is a dangerous way of thinking. If you’re in recovery, any alcoholic drink or drug use can potentially lead to a full relapse. It can also contribute to poor decision-making, which may impact your physical health, mental health, or relationships.

If you find yourself rationalizing or romanticizing drugs or alcohol, this is a sign that you need some additional support to stay sober. Once you’ve committed to living a sober life, even substances that are considered “soft drugs” like marijuana, sedatives, or sleeping pills, can derail your recovery and make it very difficult to get back on track.


Although having a single drink isn’t the end of the world, you should be honest with yourself about your motivations and feelings. Additionally, you should be honest with your sponsor, sober living house manager, and sober peers about any lapses in your sobriety and ask for help right away. If left unchecked, keeping those behaviors secret will only put fuel on the fire and contribute to ongoing substance abuse issues.


2. “You only relapse if you’re not fully committed to your recovery.”

A relapse can happen to anyone. Even the most dedicated sober individuals can relapse if they’re not careful. Unfortunately, once you begin living a life of sobriety, you’ll always face the risk of relapsing. However, that doesn’t mean you’re totally helpless.


Addiction is recognized by health experts, doctors, and researchers as a complex disease.1 Quitting drugs or alcohol requires more than good intentions or willpower. Instead, it requires the right type of support and evidence-based treatment, tailored to each individual’s needs.


Similarly, relapse is also complex. There’s no single cause and there’s no easy solution to preventing it. However, remaining intentional about your recovery and staying accountable to sober peers and treatment providers can help you feel stronger in your recovery and avoid relapse.


3. “Relapse just happens. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it.”

This is false. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that, like many other chronic diseases, people in recovery are more likely to relapse if they stop following their medical treatment plan.2 Although this isn’t always the case, if you’re not attending your treatment sessions, going to recovery meetings, or actively working your recovery program, you’re much more likely to start using drugs or alcohol again.


Additionally, relapse is not something that suddenly sneaks up on you and takes over. Instead, relapse happens gradually over time. Sometimes, the process of relapsing begins weeks or even months before you actually pick up a drink or drugs. However, treatment is designed to help you recognize and identify the earliest warning signs of relapse, so you can prevent it in the earliest stages (when it’s easiest to prevent).


Also, it’s important to recognize that recovery is a process of personal growth and development. Therefore, it’s unique to each individual. Each stage of growth has its own risks of relapse and it’s essential to get one-on-one assistance to stay sober, whether it’s through an AA sponsor, a therapist, or a certified peer recovery support specialist.

Most importantly, relapse is preventable. There are many tools you can use to prevent relapse. The primary ones used in addiction treatment include:3

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy can help you change negative thinking patterns and develop healthy coping skills.

  • Peer support: Recovery services like individualized peer support specialists, sober living programs, or recovery meetings can provide support, accountability, and many learning opportunities from sober peers.

  • Contingency management: Treatment professionals use this type of therapy to help prevent relapse by giving you some type of tangible incentive to achieve measurable treatment goals. Examples include abstaining from drugs or alcohol or attending therapy meetings.

  • Mind/body practices: Integrating yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based practices into your daily routine can help you gain a better understanding of yourself, your emotions, and your thoughts, as well as how these things affect your risk for relapse.

  • Medications: If your doctor or treatment specialist determines that it’s right for you, medication-assisted treatment can help reduce cravings that make staying sober very difficult. It can also block the pleasurable side effects of drugs like alcohol or opioids to help you avoid relapse.


4. “I relapsed so treatment didn’t work for me.”

You’ve probably heard this before, but relapse isn’t a sign that treatment failed. It’s also not a sign that you have failed. Instead, it’s a clear indication that more treatment (or a different type of treatment) is necessary.


For example, if you completed a medical detox program and 30 days of rehab afterward but you relapsed immediately after getting back home, you likely need some additional help to stay sober. This could be due to several reasons, such as not having enough time to solidify your new coping skills, needing more time in treatment to work through personal issues that contribute to your addiction, or needing treatment for a co-occurring mental health disorder that has yet to be diagnosed.


If you choose to continue your treatment after relapsing, your ongoing treatment plan will vary depending on your needs and financial ability. However, it might include options like:

  • Completing an intensive outpatient program (IOP) online or in-person

  • Enrolling in a sober living program and moving into a half way home

  • Attending community support groups multiple times per week

  • Working directly with a certified peer recovery support specialist

  • Attending group and/or individual therapy sessions regularly

An addiction treatment professional can help you determine what type of treatment services will provide you with the best opportunity for long-lasting recovery.


5. “A sober living home won’t help prevent relapse.”

Much like a drug rehab program, a half way home isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to prevent relapse. However, it’s a hugely beneficial service and resource that helps many people in recovery stay sober and achieve long-lasting recovery. Half way homes are intentionally designed to provide support, accountability, and a safe living environment for individuals in all stages of recovery. Whether you’re newly sober or you’ve been sober for years, a half way home can help prevent relapse with peer support, individualized programming, a sober living environment, and accountability.


References:

  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/addiction-science

  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/

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