Slip, going out, doing some more research—these are euphemisms for relapse you’ll hear in the recovery community, with slip often referred to as an acronym for Sobriety Loses Its Priority. So what is a relapse?
Webster defines relapse as “the act of backsliding . . . a recurrence of a disease after a period of improvement.” In terms of recovery from addiction, relapse refers to a resumption of drug or alcohol use after a period of abstinence. It seems to be the inevitable result of a fundamental shift in the balance between the old, addict-personality dynamic and the new (and fragile) recovery dynamic. This shift often occurs long before the actual drug event, and it is usually evident to loved ones and counselors even as it is unrecognized by the addict.
The euphemisms for relapse give a sense of the attitudes surrounding the event. Slip indicates an inadvertent return to using, as slipping on a patch of ice leads to an inadvertent fall—one which could be avoided if closer attention were being paid. Going out alludes to a separation—by virtue of picking up—from the fellowship of recovering addicts and alcoholics, and seems to convey more of a sense of deliberateness than slip. And doing some more research is a sly way of pointing out the irony of an addict needing to accumulate more evidence in order to be convinced of the need for the degree of commitment required for long-term recovery.
While relapse often leads to a repetition of whatever personal disaster led an addict to recovery in the first place, the fact of a relapse is not necessarily a terrible thing in itself. What relapse does—or can do—is add weight to the addict’s incentive to seek recovery. In this sense, the doing some more research joke has a good deal of truth to it. And since, statistically speaking, most addicts’ forays into recovery are marked by several to numerous attempts before taking root, relapse perhaps should be viewed as part of a natural progression of growth in the individual. Of course, this logic can be used by the addict-mind to minimize the impact of a relapse, but that kind of spurious rationalization is the product of a mindset already on its way to disaster.