Relapse – Is it Part of Recovery?

RelapseRelapse is a scary word for both recovering addicts and for family and friends of those in recovery. Relapse can and often does happen and when it does, fear and concern regarding whether or not they’ll continue on in their recovery or permanently fall back into addiction becomes very real. But what is relapse and is it a part of recovery?

What is Relapse

Relapse is the awakening of the disease of addiction that lies dormant within each recovering addict’s brain and the choice to partake in the object of addiction. This is true whether you are addicted to heroin, opiates, drugs, sex, work, gambling, etc. Relapse typically starts with the brain’s response to a trigger (a person, place or thing that creates temptation related to heroin and/or drug use). As the mind begins to wander, the decision making process to engage with the object of addiction starts. If a decision to squash the temptation is made, recovery continues however, if the brain decides to indulge in the object of their addiction, a “slip” or a “relapse” takes place.

Slip Vs. Relapse

RelapseA slip and a relapse are virtually the same thing but which term to use is typically defined by the frequency of heroin or drug use after addiction awakens from its sleeping state. A single incident is often called a “slip” while continued use (more than once) is usually referred to as “relapse”.  So what happens after a relapse?

What Happens After a Relapse

What happens after a relapse or a slip is up to the individual.  After only one use (a slip), addiction may be fully awakened and at full strength making ceasing all heroin, opiate and drug use almost or as difficult a it was the first time you chose recovery.  The consolation here is that the brain now has a memory of recovery and clean time and thus, it may be a little bit or even a lot easier to choose recovery this time around.

Just like men and women suffering from full blown heroin addiction, someone who has slipped or relapsed has the ability to make a choice.  They can choose to get back on the horse and road to recovery or continue on the downward spiral of addiction.

A number of factors will ultimately determine just how much easier choosing recovery will be.  For instance, if someone slips once or only uses a couple of times prior to choosing recovery, they likely won’t have to go through the dreaded heroin withdrawal they had to fight against the first time.  Those who have relapsed for longer may experience a physical dependency on the drug and have to battle against withdrawal symptoms.  Those who have been in recovery for many, many months or even years may have an easier time choosing recovery after a relapse or a slip than someone who slipped or relapsed only a couple weeks or months into their heroin treatment and recovery program.

Is Relapse a Part of Recovery?

Relapse preventionTo answer this question, we have to look at the characteristics of relapse and compare them to characteristics of recovery vs. addiction.  Recovery includes the desire and behavior of staying sober, stopping all drug use, developing normal routines and making healthy lifestyle choices.  Addiction includes the strong urge to use heroin / drugs, making heroin a top priority, a lack of interest in other hobbies/activities, etc.  So which of the two set of traits/characteristics does relapse exude?

Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™ understands that relapse is a sensitive subject and those who have relapsed should not be discouraged, made to feel guilty and feel ashamed.  However, to say that relapse is a part of recovery would be a misleading statement since it more clearly exudes the characteristics of addiction than recovery.  Stating that relapse is part of recovery can also be irresponsible since those in recovery who have not relapsed may begin to believe that relapse is not only ok, but that it’s a necessary part of recovery.  They may begin to make excuses and schedule a relapse since it’s art of recovery right?  Wrong.

Not everyone in recovery chooses (not experiences) a relapse.  Relapse is an action and a behavior and thus, it’s a choice.  People experience addiction because they have no choice.  Addiction is a disease of the brain and while a certain choice of using drugs may have led to addiction, nobody chooses to become an addict.  Visit “Addiction Vs. Using Drugs: Why Addicts Can’t Just Stop Using Drugs” and “Proof that Addiction is a Disease” for more information.


However, when giving advice to someone who has slipped or is currently relapsing, be careful not to make them feel guilty or ashamed.  If anything, praise God or your higher power that they are still alive.  Then, explain to them that relapse is normal for people who suffer from addiction but that they don’t have to continue choosing to relapse.  Instead, they can choose recovery once again and get right back up on the horse.

Communicating clearly and effectively is important but in order to help someone who has slipped or relapsed requires that you get to know them and figure out what makes them tick.  Advice that works for one person may not work for another.  Pay attention to their nonverbal queues as to whether or not they are following along and/or feel encouraged to choose recovery by what you are saying.  If you suspect it’s not helping, change your approach or take a break and try again later.


Relapse is a very serious and real part of addiction (not recovery) and many people who relapse after being in recovery for years, die.  This is because the brain’s memory deceives the body into thinking it’s tolerance is as it once was and that it can take similar quantities of heroin / drugs without recourse.  But since tolerance has gone down, a relapse can and often does result in an overdose, possibly resulting in death.  The best solution is to avoid triggers and to continue dedicating your life and choosing recovery each and every day.  Relapse is the choice we should not make in our recovery.

Written and Published By,

William – Publisher and Founder of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™
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7 thoughts on “Relapse – Is it Part of Recovery?

  1. I also agree with the, slip and relapse situation. One slip, shouldn’t go fylly against the person in recovery, a relapse on the other hand is much more deeper and life changing than the one slip. Thanks for the article. I definitely got alot out of it. And, helped me to see the difference.

  2. Yes it’s true relapse is not part of recovery it’s drugs,alchol are progressive disease every time you relapse you pass certain age the amount of resistance you had earlier follow down recovering takes more time each time only lucky ones survive if they are in good hands or have good knowledge of AA or NA

    • Biren, thanks for your comment and I agree. A relapse is very serious and people who’ve slipped/fallen need to be handled delicately. Otherwise, they may continue down the avenue of addiction instead of getting back on the road to recovery.

      Peace and Love,

      William – Publisher and Founder of this Community

  3. Agree with just about everything you said. Where I do differ is your notion of a slip. If you use once or a thousand times after being in recovery it’s a relapse period. Just like we say “relapse is not part of recovery” but it can and does happen we don’t say “relapse is part of recovery” cause like you said we don’t want people thinking to be in recovery you have to relapse. So in the same note we don’t want to say well you used once or only spent 10$ so you just slipped. No you relapsed! And we treat them the same way we would treat someone who went back out and lost everything again. You treat them with kindness and love and ask them what are you going to different this time.

    And to remember if you do relapse hit yourself with a feather and not a bat, and don’t be ashamed to start the recovery process over again.

    • Confused Addict,

      Thank you for your response. I understand what you are saying, but from a terminology and technical point of view, a slip is defined as a single incident of drug use while a relapse is defined as more than one incident. But you’re right, even one time of using could be construed as a relapse however, it has been distinctly defined elsewhere, not just on this heroin addiction & recovery community and website.

      But we are talking real technical here I do agree that they should both be handled the same and that said, it should be handled delicately and with compassion. Making someone who’s slipped/relapsed feel guilty and ashamed may lead them down the destructive avenue of addiction rather than the road to recovery.

      Peace and Love,

      William – Publisher and Founder of this Community

  4. Pingback: Why Relapse Isn't a Sign of Failure - Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide

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