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What is a Relapse?

What is a Relapse?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

What do they mean when they say ‘relapse’? How is it we should define someone who regresses into their old destructive habits when talking about those confronted with a battle against drug addiction? How do you know what counts and what doesn’t?

Some have asked if medications should be considered a relapse. Or maybe asked if drinking alcohol means a relapse for someone who is a recovering drug addict?

All these questions and conversations seem to come up once in a while, especially with people who are new to recovery, and opinions may vary on the terms of a relapse imply versus what other people may believe are acceptable forms of substances that should not qualify as a drug or constitute a relapse.

Looking at the Words

Relapse in regards to the English language is typically defined as:

A deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement.

In regards to drug abuse it is commonly described as resuming the use of a drug or substance after one or more periods of abstinence.

Drugs are typically defined as:

A chemical substance that has known biological effects on humans or other animals. Recreational drugs are chemical substances that affect the central nervous system.

Some substances that are technically considered ‘drugs’ that go mostly overlooked are:

These are pretty much the most widely consumed and socially accepted psychotropic drugs in society. And all things considered, they are usually used for effects on:

  • Perception
  • Consciousness
  • Personality
  • Behavior

So taking all this into account, a relapse is when an addict or alcoholic resumes using a drug or chemical substance that affect the central nervous system, and have an influence on perception, personality, behavior and other facets of the individual after a period of sobriety. This is of course the strictest definition based on the words ‘relapse’ and ‘drug.’

Taking Sides

Then in the recovery community you will see some separation on opinions as far as what relapse is, and on what kind of chemical substances should be counted as a relapse, and which should be acceptable as a medical necessity or healthy recreational supplements.

For instance, people in recovery can still be prescribed medications for pain, or for mental health concerns, or for physical growth, and while they are being prescribed with the best of intentions others might insist an individual who takes a substance that alters their mind in any manner is relapsing.

In regards to this argument, most recovery programs have written and spoken from experience about this concern, with many believing that a doctor prescribing a medication is more qualified to determine what is in the best interest of an individual, especially with knowledge of their recovery.

Then again, some people would argue that coffee, nicotine, and other things could be considered as qualifying for a relapse based on that strictest definition we were talking about.

Some may even go as far as to say drinking is not a relapse for drug addicts. But wait a minute… alcohol is a drug, and as I said probably the most dangerous drug there is.

There can be debate on this all day, and in the end some people will always disagree.

Check Your Motives

At the end of the day, most people would tell you to check your motives.

If you’re ingesting a substance with the intention of altering your mood and mind, if you’re knowingly taking a foreign chemical into your body to get high or catch a buzz, you should probably just go ahead and check those motives and call it what it is… a relapse.

Sometimes people get caught up by the concept of relapse, but at the end of the day recovery trumps relapse anytime. Recovery is always possible, even after a relapse. A relapse never means someone is helpless or even close to hopeless… it just means you have work to do if you are going to break the cycle of whatever substance you are clinging to.

Recovery is possible without relapse, and some people want to debate what counts and what does not count as a relapse. What’s more important is- if it is not an absolute necessity then why risk it? Regardless if you relapse or not, what counts is that you do what you must to recover and save your life.

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