Lapse and Relapse

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Lapse and Relapse

It is not difficult to find examples in our own lives of people making commitments to change and not being able to sustain them. For example, “I must stop shopping for clothes, I just cannot afford it”, only to find some days or weeks later that unnecessary purchases are made, with rationalisations such as “It was on a sale!” Someone who is confronted for lateness at work may make a concerted effort to attend on time and after a couple of weeks, revert to a few minutes late that increases every day. Parents who work and struggle to find a good work/life balance may promise their partner and children that they will spend more time at home, usually after something has happened to highlight their absence. A notable change takes place immediately but begins to waver after a week or so and drift back to the previous pattern with a couple of weeks.

These examples are not intended to trivialise the process of lapse or relapse but merely to illustrate that these concepts apply to many areas of human behaviour particularly well established behaviour patterns. The conclusions drawn from the behaviours listed above will rarely label the person “incurable shopaholic” or “workaholic” but may be approached in terms of the benefits or pleasure derived from the activity. From this perspective a lapse or relapse to drug use can be viewed similarly, the return to something that is enjoyed.

Why would someone who has:
• Had a significant amount of time of abstinence from substances, want to return to using
• Began to forge stronger relationships with significant others, want to return to using?
• Had his or her children returned to their care, want to return to using?
• Returned to education, want to return to using?
• Returned to work, want to return to using?
• Just completed a 6 month rehabilitation programme, decide to return to using the very same day they leave rehabilitation?

Traditional approaches to lapse and relapse state that the drug user is an ‘addict’ and will therefore always be prone to relapse, as the addiction is a life long condition. Other approaches might suggest that individuals struggle to cope with the overwhelming feelings arising from historical traumas and will opt to find an escape from these feelings in a substance that will do just that. Others might say that a lack of personal and situational awareness leads to lapse and then relapse.

Perhaps the underlying reason that drug and alcohol users lapse is because they enjoyed the feelings of using and they miss those feelings. Perhaps also it is convenient to believe that once they have indulged once, they may as well continue as the drug or alcohol free time is now broken, and once under the influence of their drug of choice that decision is also impacted. A colleague once said “once you get the taste,………….” The memory of the taste might therefore be the thing to manage!

How do you work with lapse and relapse? We’d like to hear from you

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