FAQs: I was clean for 5 years and now I took a drink. Did I relapse or just slip?

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Shlomo Hoffman
Apr 12, 2021

Question: After 5 years of sobriety, does having a drink mean I have relapsed?

Answer: The simple answer is no.  If you drank alcohol only once during 5 years, it is not a relapse.  It is considered a lapse.  A relapse is fully slipping back into your old addictive habits and becoming dependent on using.  It’s important to acknowledge your faults, but also know that you have overcome one of the most difficult things in life—addiction.  It’s easy to blame yourself and feel guilty, but you must realize nobody is perfect, and mistakes may occur.  Recovery is a lifelong process.  Instead of focusing on small slip ups, remember your long-term goals and the journey you went through to achieve 5 years of sobriety.  If you’re feeling down or feel a craving to use again, there are several options available to you so that you can prevent a full-blown relapse.

Question: How can I prevent a relapse?

Answer: If you have been through therapy and rehab, then you have likely developed a relapse prevention plan.  However, if you still feel uneasy and the urge to use, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone you trust who also supports your sobriety.  Many people attend a 12-step program or similar sobriety support groups.  These programs typically assign sponsors to support you through your recovery.  You can contact your sponsor, and they can provide you with guidance and motivation.  You can also engage in some hobbies or activities you enjoy.  It can help reduce the urge to use substances because your mind is occupied. 

Exercise is an underrated component of recovery. Whether it be jogging, yoga, weight training, or swimming, proper exercise floods the brain with endorphins—a naturally-occurring hormone that reduces pain and makes you feel good NATURALLY.  Engage and practice your coping exercises and skills that you’ve learned, such as breathing techniques and journaling your emotions.

Question: What is one of the most important factors in recovery?

Answer: Recovery is an engaging process, to ensure that you remain focused on your path of sobriety and healthy living.  It’s much more challenging to attempt to remain sober on one’s own.  Because we are humans, we require social stimulation from positive interactions with others.  Emotional support is one of the most useful components in recovery.  When you feel angst or cravings, you can rely on your support team to help keep you on track with your recovery.  Support can come from family, friends, your healthcare team, and anyone else that provides positivity to your life and supports and understands your sobriety.

Question: What do I do if I relapse?

Answer: Acknowledging that you have made a mistake is the first thing to do.  But you must not let yourself fall down the hole again because a relapse doesn’t indicate a failure in your recovery—it’s a process and it can be frustrating and difficult.  If you have relapsed, you must be honest with your treatment team about your relapse so that they can find the best solution to get you back on your path to recovery. 

There is nothing to be ashamed of because addiction is a disease that may take time to heal from, with the proper treatment.  If you feel that the urge to use is too intense from the relapse, then you should consult your healthcare professional team and determine if returning to rehab is the optimal solution for your recovery process.

Question: What are triggers and how do I deal with them?

Answer: Triggers are stimuli such as situations, habits, emotions, thoughts, tangible objects, people, and even environments that cause the urge to use substances.  Often, triggers are developed through associating substance use with a stimulus.  For example, if an individual listens to club music while using substances, he or she may associate the club music with the substance he or she used at that time. 

To healthily deal with triggers, you must first identify what they are.  Reflect and determine what usually causes you an insatiable urge to use.  Once you have identified your triggers, it is best to avoid them if possible.  If that isn’t possible, reach out to your support team and find solutions that work for you.  There is no cookie-cutter plan for everyone because everyone is unique and so are their experiences.

Since joining the Avenues Recovery content team, Shlomo has become a thought leader in the addiction field. His popular addiction podcast "Rubber Bands" is a must listen for anyone involved in Substance abuse treatment. He is a Seinfeld junkie, a recovering Twitter fanatic, and a sports expert. He enjoys milk shakes and beautiful views from rooftops.

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