Is Relapse Part of Recovery?

When it comes to addiction and recovery, there are a lot of so-called ‘hot button topics’, but there’s one that seems to be perpetually misrepresented and misunderstood more than the others: RELAPSE IS PART OF RECOVERY.

As it happens, this idea was taken from a much bigger concept that was created in the 1970s, called the Transtheoretical Model. This model is also known as the Stages of Change Model, because it maps out the process or pattern of habitual change. The idea is that people don’t often change behaviors quickly on their own; instead, changes in habits happen over time in a cyclical (or circular) pattern.

The Stages of Change form a circle until the cycle of habitual behavior is broken. The Stages as they relate to recovery are as follows:

  1. Pre-Contemplation: In this stage, you don’t acknowledge that you have a problem.
  2. Contemplation: You know you have a problem, but you’re not ready to do anything about it.
  3. Preparation: You start to talk about doing something about it, maybe telling people you’re ready to stop.
  4. Action: You actively change your behavior (usually detox and rehab).
  5. Maintenance: This stage often includes some combination of Intensive Outpatient (IOP) Therapy, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), 12-Step Meetings, etc.
  6. Termination. In this stage there is no desire to return to use.
  7. Relapse: If the cycle is not completely broken, a return to active use is common.

This is where the misunderstanding about relapse and recovery comes in, because relapse is absolutely a part of the Stages of Change cycle unless the individual holds fast to their decision to break that cycle successfully. If relapse occurs, the cycle continues.

A more appropriate way to state that problematic phrase might be that: RELAPSE IS PART OF THE CYCLE OF ADDICTION. This statement is more empowering because it is a reminder that breaking the cycle is the ultimate goal of recovery.