Is Relapse a Process or an Episode?

What Exactly Does a Relapse Mean?

Relapse is both a process and an episode. Many people describe their experience with relapse as something they saw coming over time, and when the opportunity to use finally came, they weren’t surprised by their decision. Other people describe their relapse as happening all of a sudden.

They thought they were solid in their sobriety and didn’t want to relapse and there they found themselves, using their substance of choice or some other substance. Relapse is an episode.

There is a whole brain science behind how a relapse develop. Relapse can also happen unknowingly. In a moment without defense, someone makes the decision to pick up that first drink or drug.

It is important to understand that mistakes happens. Addiction is a relapsing and remitting disease, meaning there is always a possibility for relapse- but there is also always a possibility to remain in remission. Unlike other relapsing and remitting diseases, addiction doesn’t just come back, so to speak.

As long as someone continues being honest, being open about their feelings towards drugs and alcohol (like when they experience cravings) and working the many parts of their program of recovery, they can stay sober without relapse. People achieve decades upon decades of sobriety in their lifetimes without experience relapse. Some people feel that their relapse was necessary to help them realize that their recovery really was important to them.

Sadly, relapse has no guarantee of returning to recovery. After the body has been sober for a short amount of time and detoxed, its tolerance becomes very low. The brain, however, does not want anything other than the last known high, or something better than that. Using at the same quantity as before treatment can shut the body down to cause overdose. There is also no guaranteeing that someone will be able to stop using after overdose.

It Is a Process

Cravings, resentments, and any kind of emotional stress can trigger the start of the relapse process. It happens when the brain stops focusing so much on recovery and creating pleasure out of recovery. Addiction is a disease of pleasure. The more the brain dislikes recovery the less pleasure it creates. Soon, the brain starts reminiscing about drugs and alcohol, creating delusions that using was better, that it wasn’t that bad, and that recovery isn’t that great.

The thought of using again actually triggers the production of dopamine, as if the brain has already consumed some mind altering substances. The addicted brain is dependent upon that production of dopamine, which is why it creates cravings and obsessive thoughts about drugs. Eventually, the cravings become so incessant they are hard to ignore.


Lakehouse Recovery Center focuses on relapse prevention to arm clients with the most effective tools for making the most out of life in recovery and abstaining from the first drink or drug, for a lifetime. For information on our residential treatment programs, intensive outpatient, and aftercare, call us today: 877.762.3707


Messages sent through this form are confidential. Required fields are marked with (*).

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.