Why Relapse is NOT Failure

When I first start working with a patient who is newly sober, it’s common for them to think that relapse means failure. I understand where this thinking comes from. The stigma of addiction has decreased a lot over the past 10 years, but addiction used to be thought of as a moral problem, not a medical disease. Therefore, when people relapsed, they were thought to be weak, or have failed at being sober. Today we understand addiction as a medical disease that is similar to other chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer. Addiction is a chronic disease that has to be treated and managed over time.

Relapse is a symptom, not a failure

It’s important to remember that relapse is a symptom of a disease, not a moral failure or weakness. As I said before, addiction is a chronic disease just like diabetes and cancer. When someone with diabetes is struggling with their blood sugar do we tell them that is a failure? No, of course not. Blood sugar imbalances are a symptom of the disease. Relapse is a symptom of a greater disease, and just like with diabetes, recovery takes hard work to prevent relapse.

I do think it’s important to say that relapse is not mandatory in recovery. It takes a lot of hard work on yourself combined with support from treatment providers and loved ones in order to stay sober without relapsing, but it is absolutely possible.

Relapse is an opportunity to learn about yourself, it’s not a failure

In Chinese, the word for crisis also means opportunity.