Have you experienced a slip during the course of your addiction recovery? Are you wondering if a slip can progress into a relapse? Learn about how slipping up even once could derail your recovery.

A slip can develop into a full-blown relapse. However, slips and relapses are not entirely distinct incidents in addiction recovery. Regardless of what a person calls a brief return to drug or alcohol use, having an understanding of relapse prevention is crucial for individuals to recommit to recovery in the event of a slip or relapse.

Difference Between a Slip and a Relapse

Slips and relapses are quite similar, and there are no standard definitions for the two terms. However, when people use these terms, generally the intention behind a slip is thought to be different than the intention behind a relapse. For example, a slip occurs when a person briefly returns to drugs or alcohol but feels immediate guilt or remorse for doing so. After a slip occurs, a person will usually quickly desire to get back on the road to recovery or re-enter treatment.

In contrast, a relapse is a conscious decision to return to alcohol or drugs and abandon recovery treatment.  In some sense, a relapse is premeditated or thought about ahead of time, though this is not always the case. Slips are generally not premeditated and happen randomly or in situations a person was not prepared for. Slips last for only a short amount of time, while a relapse may last for days to weeks and even months.

How to Prevent Relapse After a Slip

How can a person prevent a relapse? There are various relapse prevention strategies that individuals may learn while in addiction recovery treatment or while attending support groups. There are also many resources that can be found online. Recovery programs, including relapse prevention therapy, often explicitly focus on developing a relapse prevention plan or encouraging a person to partake in helpful relapse prevention activities.

Establishing Your Relapse Prevention Plan

What exactly is a relapse prevention plan? A relapse prevention plan is a tool for individuals in addiction treatment or recovery used to prevent drug or alcohol relapses. A relapse prevention plan typically includes various relapse prevention strategies that a person can employ if they are on the verge of a slip or a relapse. Such strategies may represent effective coping strategies in case a person in recovery finds themselves in an uncomfortable situation with access to their drug of choice.

When creating a relapse prevention plan, an individual may choose to involve their sponsor, friends or loved ones. Typically, prevention plans list a person’s triggers, the types of cravings they experience, tools that are helpful for staying sober and a list of how relapsing could negatively affect their life. There are many different relapse prevention modalities that a person can model their own prevention plan after or they can create a unique and alternative plan based on their personal history and experience.

Relapse Prevention Activities

What are some examples of relapse prevention activities? Relapse prevention activities will likely be very different between one person and the next. Some activities may include:

  • Carrying a journal around for documenting their inner thoughts
  • Practicing mindfulness-based relapse prevention strategies
  • Learning about the neuroscience of addiction
  • Talking to others in recovery about addictions
  • Learning different relapse prevention skills and coping strategies
  • Discussing mistakes openly
  • Maintaining good diet and exercise practices
  • Developing passions and hobbies
  • Practicing healthy sleep habits

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. 

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. 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.