Confused Man and woman talking

Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.

My Son Says Relapse Is Part Of The Recovery Process- Is This True?

Kate says her son Austin was clean and sober for five months when he relapsed. Now, she is frantic with worry and can’t believe he would do this to her. She was just starting to think their family could put addiction behind them when Austin messed everything up.

However, Austin tells his Mom to relax. He claims that relapse is just part of the recovery process. He assures Kate that he didn’t fail and he’ll get right back on track.

Kate says she doesn’t believe her son and thinks he is minimizing the severity of his actions. Kate reached out to me to ask if her son was telling the truth. Is relapse really part of the recovery process?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These changes can be long-lasting, affecting one’s impulse control and reasoning. They can also lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

Some believe that addicted persons can’t help themselves due to the changes in the brain, and should not be judged or held responsible for a relapse. Others believe relapse is 100 percent avoidable. Is there a right answer?

Personally, I vowed to abstain from alcohol and drugs many times before going to treatment. Does that mean every time I broke that promise I relapsed? I promised to quit getting high and then did it again and again. I was successful in giving up alcohol for a year but picked up an enormous cocaine habit in its place.

For me, recovery was not a straight line. It was a long line of stand up and fall down. Abstinence is a sought-after condition that most people in recovery struggle to find. There are many different ways someone can find recovery and it’s not a process that happens overnight.

A casual attitude around relapse might give substance abusers the feeling that they can relapse with no harm done and simply re-enter the program. Unfortunately, this does not take into account the progressive nature of addiction or the harm relapse inflicts the family.


Relapse should be avoided at all costs, but whether or not relapsing means negating all the progress that had been made up to that point is going to depend on how the person reacts to this setback. Someone who relapses and succumbs to their disease is tragic. On the other hand, if the relapse was a momentary mistake followed by an immediate return to one’s recovery plan, then the relapse can be viewed as a learning tool.

Relapse is not a spur of the moment decision. It’s a culmination of thoughts, emotions and events that happened over a period of time. Relapse has many warning signs like negative thinking, feelings of self-pity, wanting to isolate, glorifying the good times using while skipping over the bad and being critical of friends and family.

An attitude of overconfidence in recovery is dangerous. Those in recovery that do not have a strong support network to fall back on may falsely believe they’ve learned enough and can safely use again. This inner dialogue is known as stinkin’ thinkin’.

If you’re new to recovery, be aware of backdoors. You may want to take shortcuts and fly under the radar. It’s easier to tell people what they want to hear than to be honest and do the work that’s required of you.

One thing is for sure, making relapse part of your recovery process can be deadly. Many who use the ‘just one more time’ excuse don’t make it back and others will die. Chasing one last high could end with police officers knocking on your families’ door and breaking their heart with the news that you’re gone.

To answer the original question: no, relapse does not have to be part of the recovery process. In treatment, I learned relapse is part of the addiction process. Relapse is an indication of shortcuts, dishonest thinking and not doing the work.

It’s normal to think about getting high in early recovery. I still think about it 20 years later, but that’s the difference between addiction and recovery. When you’re working on a relapse you hide your thoughts, feelings and actions. When you’re working on your recovery, you share them.

Most importantly, remember that recovery is a lifelong healing process. Relapse is a sign that you need to re-evaluate and modify your strategy. If you’ve just experienced a relapse reach out for help. This is an opportunity to learn where you went wrong and correct it. Tell folks what happened. Surround yourself with people who are in long-term sobriety. Make a decision that relapse is not going to be part of your recovery process from now on and then be prepared to follow that by working hard, taking direction and doing whatever it takes to stay sober.

Keep in mind addiction is about doing what you want to do. Recovery is about doing what you need to do. You’ve gone to great lengths to get drugs and alcohol. When you put the same effort into your recovery, your life will reflect those results. The new you will have a life so incredible that giving it up to go get high again, just won’t be an option.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1-888-614-2379.

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