Relapse is a serious concern that can lead to the rekindling of addiction or the development of additional health complications for individuals who have struggled with substance abuse in the past. Even though “relapse” is considered a medical term, it is used fairly casually and is sometimes used incorrectly. A family member of someone with an addiction, for example, may have a completely different definition of relapse than a doctor who has witnessed and treated many relapses first-hand. Everyone sees relapse differently, but there is one overall definition to describe this medical complication.


How Do You Use the Word “Relapse?”

The word “relapse” can be used as both a noun and a verb. When used as a noun, a relapse is defined as either “a recurrence of symptoms of a disease after a period of improvement” or “the act or an instance of backsliding, worsening, or subsiding,” according to Merriam-Webster. When used as a verb, to relapse means, “to slip or fall back into a former worse state.” Essentially, to relapse means to show signs of a disease again after the disease was treated. In most cases, this word is used in association with addiction and substance abuse disorders.

There are even more complexities behind this seemingly simple word. These complexities lie in how people think about addiction and relapse. Some believe a relapse occurs the second after someone breaks a period of abstinence, while others think that to relapse means to slide back into harmful pre-treatment behaviors. So which of these beliefs is actually correct?

To completely relapse, someone must revert back to their old drug-using behaviors. If someone slips up once, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose control and start using a substance heavily again; it just means that they have a bit more work to do in terms of recovery. But when someone fully relapses, they will require specific treatment and attention to increase their chances of recovery and prevent future relapses from occurring.


Ways to Prevent & Treat A Relapse

Just because someone relapses does not mean all hope is lost when it comes to achieving a successful recovery. If someone relapses, they should talk to their doctor or treatment specialist about what the best next steps are before they try to navigate the issue on their own. A medical professional will be able to determine whether or not someone has truly relapsed and if they require further inpatient or outpatient treatment services.

In most cases, relapse treatment will start with detox. When someone stops using a drug that their body is familiar with, the body will react and will try to get back to its normal state. This process results in a set of uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms known as withdrawal. During withdrawal, individuals should undergo medically-administered detox to decrease uncomfortability and get the drug fully out of their systems.

After detox treatment, specialists will create an individualized treatment plan to help people who relapsed get back on the right track and achieve abstinence. Treatment plans may include a combination of one-on-one therapy, group therapy, family therapy, classes, certain medications, and more.

To learn more about the definition of relapse and how to proceed when someone relapses, contact our team of substance abuse treatment specialists by calling 267.209.7312.