Recovery presents joy and challenge in competing measures. This battle to regain control of one’s life does not have one linear path. Instead, it is a series of twisting, convoluted choices that hopefully end up cobbling together a healthier, happier way of living. But most of those meandering paths to sobriety include some form of backsliding. Regression back into using drugs or alcohol takes many forms, and having a backslide does not necessarily indicate a headlong tumble to rock bottom. Regardless of whether you are trying to get back on track after a backslide or relapse or you are trying to prevent them from happening, getting professional help through relapse prevention and alumni support programs can be just what you need.
At New Start Recovery, we know that it can be discouraging when you slip back into drinking or using drugs after a period of abstinence. This can happen before completing an addiction treatment program or even years later. Either way, we are here to help guide you back to your recovery path. If you need additional support for relapse prevention or resuming a sober lifestyle, call us today at 833.433.0448.
Backslide vs. Relapse in Recovery
Depending on who you ask, hiccups in recovery are considered full-blown relapses, as with Alcoholics Anonymous. But others argue that gray areas exist in addiction recovery, and not all slip-ups or bumps in the road need to be called relapses. In this case, people may choose to refer to these minor transgressions as backslides. Both of these terms indicate that a person has used drugs or alcohol while in recovery. So, is there a difference between a backslide vs. relapse?
It Depends Where You Are in Recovery
We find the most vulnerable among us in early recovery. We rarely possess the self-awareness and perspective to judge our slip-ups at this stage. That is why AA’s policy of total abstinence works so well with people in early recovery. When there is no gray area, it is pretty simple to force your way forward into a clean and sober lifestyle. A minor backslide will not escalate into a full-blown relapse if it does not happen in the first place.
But what about once you have successfully gotten your life back on track for a few years? That same minor backslide may act as a rude awakening rather than a temptation to backslide further. And labeling a successful wake-up call as a relapse may or may not help keep your recovery on the right track.
Prioritizing Failure as Guidance
Most treatment centers follow AA’s 12-step model to some degree. Simply put, its wisdom offers a better way forward for most people who struggle with substance abuse. And one of AA’s core tenets is acceptance of failure as a tool for accountability.
Backsliding behavior indicates a threat to our health and happiness. AA takes the position that there is no difference between a backslide vs. relapse. The belief is that separating the two only muddies the waters and prevents us from taking accountability. And for many who have suffered from crippling chemical dependency, that black-and-white approach offers the best formula for a happy and healthy life.
When Discouragement Snowballs
However, not all of us respond to the same incentives. Ownership of backsliding works to motivate people who do not take it too personally or have a strong support system. But for some, the word relapse can be demotivating and do more harm than good.
The sense of forward or backward momentum affects some people’s choices more than others. And when it comes to addiction, it is easy to fall prey to the all-or-nothing mentality. Is it a full-blown relapse if you have a minor, isolated incident a few years into your sobriety? When it comes to the long game of recovery, the semantics of a backslide vs. relapse do not matter as much as your trajectory going forward.
One Day at a Time: Decision Fatigue
One of the most well-known adages of Alcoholics Anonymous is, “One day at a time.” This phrase is a shorthand reminder that focusing on the present reduces unnecessary worry and stress. When you are only responsible for your sobriety through the end of the day, you do not need to worry about defining the difference between backsliding and relapsing.
Our days are full enough without having to constantly make choices about our sobriety.
An individual’s deteriorating quality of decisions after a lengthy decision-making session is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in making decisions. If you obsess over bad choices in the past, you risk compromising the quality of decisions from then on. That sums up a lot of the wisdom behind one day at a time.
Backslide vs. Relapse: Being Fair to Yourself
Rather than worrying about the difference between a backslide vs. relapse, consider why you ask that question in the first place. Are you concerned that small mistakes foreshadow larger ones? That kind of mindset fosters dangerous discouragement. If you are wondering if it is okay to parse mistakes, the answer is conditional:
- Always admit to yourself that, at the very least, you slipped up or had a bump in the road.
- Take ownership of your mistakes to be fair to yourself.
- Whether you call it backslide vs. relapse, do not downplay regression in recovery.
New Start Recovery: Addiction Alumni Programs to Keep You on Track
At New Start Recovery, we understand that relapse prevention is a crucial component of a successful recovery. Participating in our addiction alumni program for recovery helps establish a foundation to address concerns about relapsing or backsliding. AA meetings can also be a helpful tool for lasting sobriety. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment for a substance abuse problem, our addiction counselors are available 24/7 over the phone at 833.433.0448[.