Drug Relapse or Slip: What’s the Difference?

Drug Relapse or Slip: What’s the Difference?


Defining a Drug Relapse

What’s a Relapse?

This seems like a pretty straightforward question for an alcoholic or addict. A relapse is when you drink, or use drugs, after a period of sobriety. Simple, right? Nope, it’s a bit more complicated.

Within that simple statement, a slew of questions arise. First, there’s the never ending drug vs. alcohol debate – is a junky relapsing if they drink? What if drinking was never their problem? What about an alcoholic who never used drugs, but suddenly a doctor says they need benzodiazapines for anxiety?

What about the less immediate questions of relapse. Like, what if you pick up the wrong cup at dinner? Your cup had ginger ale, the one you sip from is a vodka tonic. Is that a relapse? Is it possible to accidentally take a mood or mind altering medication?

Finally, there’s the age-old question: when, if ever, is it okay to take a medically prescribed or OTC drug, that’s known to be mind altering?


drug relapse

Read about how to deal with a relapsing roommate

There’s No Difference Between Drugs or Alcohol

When asking “what’s a relapse,” the idea that drugs and alcohol are separate entities has to be put to rest. That immediately takes care of the first two questions. For someone who suffers from addiction and alcoholism, there is no distinction. Alcohol is a drug, it’s just liquefied and legal.

Plenty of drugs come in liquid form (eyedroppers full of acid, bottles of cough syrup, how about that methadone from the clinic?). Even more plentiful are the legal forms of our favorite street drugs. Adderall, for example, is simply pharmaceutical grade amphetamine.

There’s no real explanation as to why alcohol isn’t considered a drug. Well, there are some important people who may be adversely affected if everyone recognized how deadly alcohol is. In fact, alcohol is the second deadliest drug in the world. The only substance that kills more people is nicotine, and hey, that’s legal too.

So yes, using a substance that isn’t your drug of choice is a relapse.


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Is the Accidental Sip a Slip?

What about accidentally taking a sip of alcohol? What about drinking something you thought was alcohol free, only to find out it’s not? In these cases, a person’s intentions are vital.

If your intention is to try to sneak some negligible amount of alcohol into your system, well, that’s an issue. If that’s the case, your sobriety’s been in danger long before you took that sip.

For the person who can honestly say they accidentally took a sip, it’s not a relapse. It’s more a lesson in being extra careful. Alcoholics do accidentally drink. Next time you’re somewhere where water and a vodka rocks are next to each other, ask someone else to take a sip first.

The same goes for medication. It’s possible to mistakenly take an allergy pill or something similar, but if getting high wasn’t your intention (and that’s really a matter of being honest with yourself), it’s not a relapse.

Read about how an Intensive Outpatient Program can help prevent a relapse

Is Taking Medication as Prescribed a Drug Relapse?

This last question is maybe the most controversial. Is it okay to take medication, prescribed by a doctor, that’s known to alter the mind? Some people in recovery call this a “freelapse.”

This instance of “is it a relapse?” is slightly more complicated, as each member of AA decides for themselves what’s right. Regardless of whatever “expert” opinion you’ve heard, you’re the one who decides. Remember, though, to ask yourself, does my medical condition truly warrant taking a medication which can trigger a relapse?

Some AA purists insist that under no circumstance can you take a pain pill. Other members agree that for extreme cases (surgery, terminal illness, etc.) medication should be taken as prescribed. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Wondering if Kava is a relapse, read more about it here

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