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    What’s the Difference Between a Slip or Lapse and a Relapse?

    If your child or loved one has previously been in recovery, any use of drugs or alcohol can be upsetting to you. But it’s important to realize that their behavior doesn’t necessarily mean that they will return to addiction. In addition, the way you react to their behavior can have a big influence on how things turn out.

    Living in recovery is a learned behavior, and very few people master it right from the start. Recovery is about learning how to live differently, and that process can involve some slips along the way. If your loved one takes a step backwards and uses substances again, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t making progress or that they need to go to rehab — it may just mean that they’re still learning. The important thing is how they handle their slips.

    If your loved one’s slip is limited to a short period of time, the risk to their safety is low, and if they make an effort to learn from their mistake and get back on the right track, the slip likely won’t be disastrous. You can help them bounce back by staying calm and supportive. Understand that a slip is normal and don’t overreact or get angry. The last thing you want to do is shame your child or loved one and increase their chances of using substances again. Remember: recovery is about progress, not perfection.

    Unfortunately, sometimes a slip can turn into a relapse, which is longer in duration and more sustained. If your loved one doesn’t deal with their slip properly and doesn’t take the proper steps necessary to correct their behavior — like understanding why it happened and what they can do to make it less likely — the chances of them going back to using substances on a more regular basis increase. This can often result in a return to addiction.

    We cannot stress highly enough that sobriety takes practice. Whether your child or loved one has a slip or a relapse, it doesn’t mean that their previous time spent in recovery will be wasted, nor does it mean that there is no hope for the future. The main thing is for them — and for you — to focus on moving forward.

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    Want to connect with another parent who's been there?

    Denise is one of our volunteer Parent Coaches. Like all of our coaches, she knows first-hand the challenges of helping a child with addiction. In addition to their own experiences, all parent coaches receive extensive and on-going training.

    Learn more about parent coaching

    Last Updated

    September 2023