Slips and relapses are common during the addiction recovery process. Learn about how slips and relapses are similar and how they are different.

Addiction recovery can be arduous and difficult. Many individuals would describe the experience as physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually challenging. The concept of a slip versus relapse may not be well understood by everyone outside of the addiction treatment world. 

So what are the primary differences between a slip and a relapse? Both slips and relapses commonly occur during addiction recovery at least once and can hinder the progress a person has made up to that point. Understanding the signs of a slip or relapse may help an individual self-reflect and gain greater self-awareness during this challenging time. 

Signs of a Slip

First, what is the definition of a slip? A slip can be defined as a very brief lapse in recovery. 

Typically, slips occur in early recovery but may occur later. Slips involve a period where an individual drinks alcohol or uses drugs, albeit for a short time. Slips may last for a few minutes to hours or even a few days. Importantly, slips are usually accompanied by immediate regret or guilt for going back to drugs or alcohol. A person still has a strong desire to continue or get back into their addiction recovery after a slip.

Some signs of a slip may include: 

  • Feeling guilt 
  • Recognizing fault immediately 
  • Strong desire to get back to recovery 
  • Feeling as though one made a mistake
  • Stopping drug or alcohol use immediately after a slip
  • A one-time thing
  • Contacting a sponsor, friend or loved one about their mistake soon after the slip

In some cases, a slip may be a motivating factor for a person to never slip again and to continue on their road to recovery. Other people may find that even one slip makes them want to return to their drug or alcohol of choice. In these unfortunate cases, a slip can quickly develop into a relapse. 

Next Steps

Slips are not uncommon in recovery. A person receiving addiction treatment should not discount the days they spent sober before a slip. It is important to realize that everyone makes mistakes. While in recovery for addiction to drugs or alcohol, individuals learn how to develop a positive recovery support system. People also learn how to strengthen their self-awareness, how to improve themselves and how to examine their choices and behaviors. 

Self-awareness in addiction recovery as well as recovery support are of utmost importance for a successful recovery. If an individual experienced a slip or feels that they are on the verge of one, they can call their sponsor or supportive friends, acquaintances or loved ones. Additionally, a person may opt to attend support groups or to call local addiction helplines. The more an individual focuses on developing their support system, the more likely they are to rely on them in times of hardship. 

Signs of a Relapse

In contrast to a slip, what are the signs of a relapse? A relapse can also be defined as a lapse in recovery that lasts for a longer period than a slip. During this time, an individual may not express grief or regret, but decides to intentionally abandon their recovery. Relapses can occur at any point during recovery. Warning signs of an impending relapse may include a person that: 

  • Fantasizes about the good times they had while using drugs or alcohol in the past
  • Has severe cravings for drugs or alcohol 
  • Does not have a good support system that encourages their recovery
  • Lacks healthy outlets in the event of cravings or their desire to return to drugs or alcohol
  • Thinks they have control over their drug use and that it can be regulated without becoming addicted again 
  • Still associates with friends, family members or others that actively partake in drug or alcohol use
  • Has constant life stresses
  • Shows obvious changes in behavior or patterns 
  • Is increasingly isolated from their support system
  • Experienced one or more slips in the past
  • Desires to return to their “old life” 

Next Steps

In the event of a relapse or a slip that develops into a relapse, there are many different addiction treatments. There are also many helpful recommendations about what to do after a relapse. It is important to realize that even if a person experiences multiple relapses during their recovery, they are not a lost cause. 

Relapses happen to many individuals in addiction recovery. First, a person can reflect and admit their mistakes. Using self-awareness and other techniques, a person can begin to understand their triggers and why a relapse happened. Through the help of sponsors, medical professionals, friends, family or a therapist, a person can decide to return to addiction treatment and move forward with their life. 

Do you or a loved one struggle with an addiction to alcohol or other drugs? Are you worried about slips or relapses? Contact The Recovery Village® to discuss treatment options for addiction and any co-occurring mental health conditions. Speak with a representative today about the variety of addiction treatments available at one of our accredited and comprehensive addiction recovery centers located throughout the United States. 

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Editor – Daron Christopher
Daron Christopher is an experienced speechwriter, copywriter and communications consultant based in Washington, DC. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.