Lapse and relapse
Recovering from addiction takes time and lapses and relapses can sometimes happen.
Experiencing a lapse or a relapse is not a sign of ‘weakness’, ‘failure’ or inability to recover. Rather, they are signs that old ways of coping need to be replaced with new ones.
The most important thing to remember is that both lapses and relapses can be overcome.
The path to recovery is not a straight line. Change takes time and when moving towards recovery people may face obstacles that set them back temporarily (a lapse) or for longer periods of time (a relapse). If you do experience a lapse or a relapse it is important to remember that you can overcome these, and you can achieve your goals!
What is a lapse?
A lapse refers to a short return to alcohol or other drug use, or gambling. It is a one-time (or temporary) step back on a recovery journey.
For example: June has been abstinent from alcohol for three weeks. On the weekend she attended a family event where she had a stressful argument with a relative. June went home and consumed five glasses of wine, when she woke up the next morning she regretted drinking and decided not to drink anymore. She has not had any alcohol in the days since.
June has experienced a momentary lapse, but the important thing is that she remains focused on her recovery and is continuing to move forward.
What is a relapse?
Relapse refers to a return of alcohol or other drug use, or gambling, which someone has previously managed to control or quit completely. In a relapse, the use of alcohol or other drugs goes back to previous levels of use, or close to this.
For example: June has been abstinent from alcohol for three weeks. On the weekend she attended a family event where she had a stressful argument with a relative. She went home and consumed five glasses of wine, June has continued to drink a bottle of wine every night for the past two weeks. This is the same amount of alcohol she was drinking daily before. She hasn’t been able to manage her use and is looking for help.
June has experienced a relapse as she is experiencing difficulties controlling her alcohol use and has returned to drinking excessive amounts. The important thing to do in this situation is to ask for help and support, as June has.
What happens if you experience a lapse or a relapse?
While it is common for people to experience a lapse or a relapse, not everyone will. It is also possible to lapse, without this turning into a relapse.
If you do experience a lapse or a relapse this is an opportunity to explore what happened and what could be done in future to prevent this happening again. After a lapse or a relapse, you may realise that there are triggers and warning behaviour that could be better managed with other coping skills or support. This may help you stay on track and maintain positive changes.
Developing a healthy lifestyle, understanding and managing cravings, learning coping strategies like relaxation techniques, and asking for help when things are difficult can make a difference and help you to stay focused on your goals. Also, remember that you can always access professional support if you need help on your road to recovery, so you don’t have to go it alone.
If you would like some one-on-one support, including advice about lapse or relapse, you can chat to one of our counsellors anytime. Our service is free, confidential and available 24/7. You can also chat with others with similar experiences on our forum.
If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through Find support.
What can I do next?
Find some additional tools to help yourself maintaining change, this could include:
- Read about managing cravings.
- Or, you may want to chat with others on our peer support forum.