How using language like 'recurrence' instead of 'relapse' might help someone maintain recovery from addiction
We need to stop talking about relapse as failure.
Language Has ConsequencesWe live in a postmodern world in which sensitivity to the narrative and the language that constructs reality is stronger than at any other time in our history. Therefore, how we “name” (define) an event often impacts our “understanding” (etiology) of the problem, which influences how we “deal with" (treat) the problem. The misuse, abuse, and/or inappropriate use of a term can have a lasting impact on our ability to address the issue.
The term “relapse” has been criticized and considered less appropriate in depicting the full, and therefore, correct, picture of a person in recovery and their struggles. Again, the biggest issue with the term is that it still carries a black-or-white, dichotomic view of success versus failure in addiction treatment: If the person is sober, treatment is a success, but if they have relapsed, treatment has been unsuccessful.
William Miller, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology andPsychiatryat the University of New Mexico, describes how the term “relapse” denotes very limited all-or-none thinking. This perspective leads to an inaccurate understanding of how recovery works: the belief that either a person abstains from substance use; otherwise, they are out of control. headtopics.com
Miller (2015)points out the discrepancy between how mental health issues are addressed compared to physical health conditions, observing, “People with diabetes who appear in the emergency room in glycemic crisis are not told that they have relapsed.” Why would we say this about people with substance use disorders?
Viewing relapse as a failure can be unhelpful for several reasons. First, it can foster an overly simplistic view of addiction while objectifying the individuals struggling with the condition. Also, it can be inconsistent with the zeitgeist and the subsequent culture of modern times, when society is becoming more open-minded and more high-profile figures are sharing their personal experiences with mental health and substance use disorders.
The truth is that a person’s work can never be done if they struggle with addiction; it is a condition that requires treatment providers and patients to remain diligent in order to provide the most relevant, up-to-date, and accurate treatment. The common but unrealistic expectation that completing treatment is all that is needed to remain sober can lead to irrational fears around relapse and discourage individuals from seeking help to get back to recovery. Considering that addiction is, in a nutshell, the dysregulation of
motivation, having unmanaged expectations and false perceptions can lead to a significant barrier in one’s recovery.So, before getting into any details about “relapse,” we need to rename the term. By doing so, we can reframe the problem to fit how addiction is viewed today, not 20 years ago. For example, the goal of a headtopics.com
therapysession should be “recovery maintenance” rather than “relapse prevention” to reflect the potential positive outcomes of treatment rather than emphasizing the possibility of setbacks.The most frequently used and preferred terminology in place of relapse is “recurrence." As a first step toward reducing the stigma that surrounds addiction, both providers and the clients should get used to using this language.
Preventing a RecurrenceAs mentioned above, as addiction knowledge evolved with its known complexities, the treatment methods and the ideas around it have also grown exponentially. When educating about and practicing recurrence prevention, it is important to keep conversations simple, practical, and sustainable. Preventing a recurrence involves the following principles:
Stay engaged and involved in recovery-oriented activities. Clients often refer to it as, “Do the recovery; then you won’t relapse.” In other words, create a new routine that is most conducive to recovery. One of the easiest ways is to seek and receive treatment as well as participate in support groups including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
The next idea is understanding thegradual stages of recurrence and recovery(Melemis, 2015). This is a process of personal growth with developmental milestones and corresponding risks of recurrences. Therefore, the main goal of recurrence prevention is to help individuals realize the initial signs, recognize their triggers, and form healthier patterns during the early stages, when the chances of success are known to be greatest. headtopics.com
Last but not least, cognitive therapy is still one of the most fundamental and effective tools in relapse prevention when paired withmindfulness Read more: Psychology Today »
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