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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people who are in recovery will relapse, a testament to just how difficult maintaining sobriety can be. Relapse is not considered to be the catastrophe it once was, and it’s not considered an indication that treatment was unsuccessful. In fact, relapse is now considered the norm rather than the exception, and most experts and addiction professionals view it as an opportunity to re-evaluate the recovery plan and develop more effective strategies for coping with triggers, cravings and stress moving forward.

The holidays are a particularly vulnerable time for people in recovery. Holiday stress due to financial difficulties, complicated travel plans or family discord can quickly lead to a lapse, and extra self-care, mindfulness and support are always recommended during the holidays for that reason.

A Lapse Doesn’t Always Lead to Relapse

Addiction relapse is characterized by a return to compulsive use of drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences despite wanting or trying to quit. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out that while using drugs or alcohol in recovery increases the risk of an eventual relapse of the addiction, not every lapse leads to relapse, especially if intervention is swift after an initial episode of using.

One of the most important factors in determining whether a lapse will turn into a relapse is your emotional response to the slip-up. Those who experience guilt and other negative emotions following a lapse and who believe the lapse occurred due to personal failure are more likely to relapse as a way of escaping those negative feelings. Likewise, those who attribute the lapse to a total lack of willpower are more likely to give up and simply abandon any attempt at sobriety. 

If the Holidays Got You Down, Swift Intervention Will Get You Back on Track

Whether or not a lapse has turned into a relapse, it’s critical to withhold self-judgement and move forward. Just as it took time for an addiction to develop, it takes time to develop a lifestyle that’s conducive to sobriety and hone the skills necessary for maintaining it. A lapse does not equal failure. It’s not the end of recovery, and it’s not the end of the world. 

As soon as a lapse occurs during the holidays, ask for help immediately. Contact your sponsor, a supportive family member, your case manager, a treatment center, your physician or your therapist, or head straight to a support group meeting.

As soon as you ask for help, you’re acknowledging that you made a mistake, and you’re taking responsibility for it. You’re saying that you want to continue with recovery, but you need help doing it.

You’ll likely need to attend more support group meetings and therapy sessions for a while, and with the help of your sponsor, support group members and therapist, you’ll closely examine what went wrong. You’ll determine when the lapse process started, what triggered it, what you didn’t do that you should have done and what skills and strategies you’re currently lacking. Then, you’ll work to fill in those deficiencies.

Maybe you’ll need to pay particular attention to your stress level, or better address your negative emotions. Chances are, the lapse process started well before the holidays, but you may not have noticed a shift in your attitudes or emotions, and so you’ll need to be particularly mindful moving forward. 

Moving forward is the main thing. You have to pick yourself up, forgive yourself and let go of any guilt, shame or self-loathing. Start where you are, and fully and mindfully engage with your ongoing recovery. In doing so, you’ll probably find that you come out of your holiday lapse stronger than ever before. 

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