A Setback vs a Relapse

If you’re in recovery, we know how hard you worked to get there. Accepting that you have a problem, opting for treatment, and working your way into recovery is no easy feat. In fact, if you’ve made it this far you have a multitude of things for which you should be extremely proud of yourself. Kudos to you!

Now, let’s talk about relapse. It’s the big ugly, sensationalized, R word that’s so greatly feared in the recovery community. Relapse is often synonymous with guilt, shame, disappointment, and the likes of many more negative feelings. We want to suggest that you don’t just lump every miscalculation, minor infringement, or honest mistakes into one big, shameful category. Let’s think about a word more synonymous with acknowledging a slip up but with a more positive frame. Setbacks. 

A setback can be anything from a subtle mistake, obstacle, a slip up to a relatively minor problem. The difference between a set back and a relapse is that relapse implies that you may have to start back at square one. A setback acknowledges that a mistake has been made but that you are willing and able to use the coping mechanisms and skills you’ve learned so far in recovery to get yourself back on track or seek the support you need to continue with a successful recovery. 

When you haven’t fully lost the new behavioral changes you worked so hard to achieve, then you really aren’t back at square one. You’ve just experienced a minor setback that you are fully capable of overcoming. So, the next time your recovery hits a bump in the road, don’t beat yourself up and throw yourself to the wolves, acknowledge what happened, talk about it with your counselor, sponsor, recovery coach, or trusted confidante and find a way to get back on track and add some needed support into your maintenance plan. You’ve worked too hard to start back at square so don’t go back there if you don’t have to.

Kenneth Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC, CCS. “How do You Prevent Relapse?”. Alcohol Addiction Blog. (Website). March 2014

  • 10 Commentsby Likes|Date
  • Relapse does not have to be the big, bad thing some make it out to be. Many people who've been in recovery for many years will tell you they relapsed plenty before they really started making progress... 

    Recovery is a learned behavior...and in early recovery, the temptation and cravings can be so big...and hard to resist...so yeah, what do you do if you relapse???

    You accept that you've relapsed...and then make a decision to get back up and start again. I mean, if you're learning to ride a bike and fall over, do you stop? Say screw it?

    Nah, you (and whoever is teaching you) automatically get back up and try again. You know that if you just keep trying, you'll get it....and still, even maybe after you've learned to ride that bike..a year later you  may see something shiny, turn your head to look, and bam, you crash... but still, do you toss your bike into the garbage? nah. You get over your bumps and you get back on that bike...learning a valuable lesson (keep your eyes on the road..or recovery...)

    Some people i know went to rehab at least 5 times...and relapsed many times, but at some point...they started NOT relapsing...they started staying clean and sober...it took them time and it was and is a process.

    Stay the course..and if you fall, or relapse, GET BACK UP! :)

  • "Relapse" is definitely a scary, dirty word, isn't it? But it doesn't have to be. I made this video a while back. It addresses this issue. Maybe it will help someone change their thinking a bit. Watch it and let me know your thoughts.

  • spot on @DeanD!! excellent information here. thank you for sharing! 

    and yes, feel free to do more videos!
  • Thank you for taking the time to make a video that effects everyone in society
  • I randomly found this on the internet and I want to say awesome peice and also thanks for using my article as a reference that was cool
  • Thanks for the knowledge, @Takingescalator!
  • I've always viewed relapse in a similar way. If you view addiction as a disease, then abusing a substance is like a form of "treatment" for that disease. Is it a good one? Of course not. But it works. Going to a rehabilitation center or seeking therapy is another, much better treatment for the disease. They both work. One is just better than the other. Relapsing is just your disease coming to the forefront again, so you can either treat it yourself (by using drugs/alcohol) or seek treatment from a professional (therapy, etc).

    It's no different to me than a kidney disease or something. You can try home remedies, but that will only get you so far. You need help from someone who knows what they're doing.

    There's probably a lot of flaws in this way of thinking. And I'll admit I'm just not very good at explaining it but it does make sense in my head, and I believe it can be a good way to put things in perspective.
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