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

We work with a special group of moms and dads – Parent Coaches – who, just like you, have been affected by a child’s substance use. They are volunteers who receive special training from the Partnership and our clinical partner in order to help other families through similar struggles. In these blog posts, they answer parents’ most frequent questions.

If your child or loved one has some clean time under their belt, 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 their former addiction. In addition, the way you react to their behavior can have a big influence on how things turn out.

Sobriety is a learned behavior and very few people master it right from the start. Sobriety 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 drugs or alcohol again, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t making progress or that they need to go to, or back to, rehab. It just means that they’re still learning. The important thing is how they handle their slip(s).

If your loved one’s slip is limited to a short period of time, the risk to their safety is low, and they make an effort to learn from their mistake and get back on the right track, it likely won’t be disastrous. You can help them bounce back, too, 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 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 take the proper steps necessary to correct their behavior—like understanding why it happened and what he/she can do to make it less likely—the chances of them going back to using substances on a more frequent, regular basis increase. This can often result in a return to full-blown 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. Or that there is no hope for the future. The main thing is for them—and you—to focus on moving forward.

Would you like to connect with one of our Specialists for one-on-one help and learn more about Parent Coaching? Email us to get started.