What is alcohol/drug slip up or relapse?

Alcohol/Drug Slip Up or Relapse
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Relapse of substance use disorder

Relapse means that a person has returned to drinking or using drugs after having successfully quit. Most people who stop drinking or using drugs because of substance use disorder have at least one relapse.

Relapses are most likely to happen in the first few months after drinking or drug use has stopped. A person may have several relapses regardless of whether they have received professional treatment. But as time goes on, relapses usually occur less often and do not last as long. Having a relapse is not a reason to give up on treatment for substance use disorder.

Substance use disorder in teens: What do you need to know about relapse?

Returning to substance use is common after treatment. This is called relapse.

Relapse isn't a failure on the part of your teen or the treatment program. Recovery from a substance use disorder is hard. It takes time. Most teens need to go through treatment more than once and follow a long recovery process.

Relapse is less likely if your teen:

  • Is motivated by the treatment program to stop using and to learn the skills to deal with drug cravings, high-risk situations, and relapse.
  • Can commit to being substance-free.
  • Has or finds a healthy hobby or interest.
  • Gets treatment for other conditions, such as ADHD or depression.
  • Is involved in an aftercare program or case management.

Alcohol or drugs: Dealing with relapse

If you begin using drugs or alcohol again, follow these steps.

  • Stop drinking or using the drug at once.

    Get rid of it. Pour it down the sink or flush it down the toilet. Leave the situation you are in if you can.

  • Keep calm.

    Remember your plan for what to do if you have a relapse. Remind yourself how hard you've worked to stay sober or drug-free.

  • Get support right away.

    Call the people listed on your relapse plan, or go to the places your plan lists.

  • Think about what happened.

    When you've stopped drinking or using drugs, find out what caused you to relapse. Think about how you can prevent it from happening again. Put this in your plan.

What can trigger a relapse from alcohol or drugs?

Triggers are things that might cause you to have a relapse from alcohol or drugs. They may include:

  • Certain people. Running into people you drank or used drugs with could trigger memories and a desire to use alcohol or drugs again. If you meet these people, they could urge you to use alcohol or drugs.
  • Certain places. Walking into a bar, a friend's home, or a park where you drank or used drugs could trigger a craving. Even being in the same kind of area could cause cravings.
  • Certain things. You may link objects to alcohol or drug use. For example, seeing a syringe or pipe could trigger memories.
  • Certain times. Certain days or times of day, holidays, or weather could trigger a craving. It depends on your memories of alcohol or drug use.
  • Certain smells, sounds, and sensations. The smell of the drug, cigarette, or a food could be a trigger. A rainy day, a song, or a TV show could also cause a craving.
  • Stress. Stress is a major trigger. Any situation where you feel stress makes a relapse more likely.
  • Certain situations. Social activities, parties, or being alone could also make you think about having a drink or looking for drugs.

It may be helpful to write down your triggers and think about them. Are some more likely to cause a relapse than others? Rate your triggers from most likely to cause a relapse to least likely to cause a relapse.

Now you can make a plan to manage your triggers. You might need to avoid certain situations or people or stay away from a favorite place or activity. If you know you can't avoid a trigger, bring a friend with you for support.

What is alcohol or drug relapse?

A relapse is returning to using alcohol or drugs after having quit. Stopping substance use, whether you use alcohol or drugs, can be very hard. And having a relapse is common.

A short-term return to using is sometimes called a lapse. And a long-term return to using may be called a relapse.

If you return to using alcohol or drugs, that doesn't mean that you or your treatment has failed. It may mean that you just slipped up. If this is true for you, accept the mistake and move on. Try to find out why you returned to using. Then make changes in your life that can help you quit for good. You also may need more treatment or another type of treatment. Or you may need more time in support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.

You might have several relapses, whether you have tried to quit substance use on your own or have had treatment. As time goes on, relapses usually occur less often and are shorter. Some people never have a relapse.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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