First, relapse is the term used to indicate that one who has stopped drinking and/or drugging and was in recovery starts drinking or drugging again. Like most things, relapse can be viewed from both a negative and positive angle.

Negative Viewpoint

Relapse is, unfortunately, often viewed as a glaring personal failure and a sign of weakness.  Viewing it this way can fuel additional drug and/or alcohol use to drown out feelings of guilt and failure. This viewpoint is steeped in  the historical stigma associated with addiction and alcoholism.  This negative view of relapse  is logical if a society does not accept the disease theory of addiction  and thinks stopping addiction is a matter of personal will power and “just saying no.”

Positive Viewpoint

Relapse can provide an opportunity to start over again. It can provide the foundation for building a stronger recovery. If individuals who have relapsed seek help and commit to building a stronger recovery, then they can draw from their experience to keep relapse  from happening again.

Using Relapse Positively

Once people re-enter recovery, their sponsor or counselor should assist them in examining what thoughts and behaviors triggered the relapse. Were they around others who were drinking or using? What were they thinking? What were they feeling? Had they stopped going to meetings and calling their twelve step sponsor? All of these things and more can contribute to relapse.

Strong emotional reactions are especially hard for newly recovering individuals to handle because they have become accustomed to numbing their feelings with their drug/drink of choice.  It is only natural for them to want to numb any strong emotions that surface, and many do early in recovery because the emergent feelings can be overwhelming. Once it is determined what contributed to the relapse, it is extremely important that the person who relapsed makes a conscientious effort to avoid the people, places, or things (thoughts, impulses, feelings, etc.) that triggered the relapse.

 

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