What “Relapse Is a Part of Recovery” Really Means

Many say “relapse is a part of recovery”, but exactly does that mean? In this short video, John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC, discusses the role of relapse in addiction recovery.


Relapse is more of a process — not an event. A lapse is an event. A lapse could be a lapse in judgment — of going back to your old people, places, and things, having a bad day, having a loss. And then what you do with that lapse can determine whether you are going to learn something new, have a wake-up call in your recovery and ask for help, or if you are going back to your drug of choice.

But we’d like to broaden this definition of relapse to see it more as a relapse of attitudes and behaviors. That a person probably has made fifty decisions before they actually pick up that drug again. So the earlier you can identify those relapses and attitudes and behaviors, the easier it is to intervene. Because oftentimes, when someone’s in the throes of using again, it is very difficult time to have them get back on track.

So go back to the idea that lapse is an event. What you do with that event can make it a relapse — falling back into the full-blown throes of addiction — or I’d like to look at things as a prolapse. A prolapse in recovery would be seen as a lapse that results in something positive. A greater investment in your recovery. Something good came out of it. I’d like to believe that all potential lapses and relapses can be potential prolapses if the person learns from it. So even if a person calls after having had a lapse, you want to know what was different this time and give them praise and encouragement for picking up the phone and having the courage to be able to talk about what they’re doing and be able to get back on track again.

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