Relapse occurs when a once abstinent individual ingests a substance in order to get high, experience euphoria or blot out feelings and consciousness, whatever the reason. So, when it come to relapse, intent is everything. Some difference of opinion however, exists between different 12-step groups as to the precise meaning of a relapse. Two common definitions seem to exist, one held by AA, the other a commonly-held belief of people in the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous.
The organization Alcoholics Anonymous does not require any particular viewpoint. When we talk about the AA view we’re talking about a way of thinking commonly held by members of AA, not any rules or laws established by AA. In AA, only the physical consumption of alcohol counts as a relapse, commonly called a slip. When a person with any amount of AA sober time chooses to drink alcohol, they are said to have slipped or relapsed.
Narcotics Anonymous members have expressed a belief that a relapse can take place without picking up, that is, without taking a drink or a drug. The concept of a spiritual relapse is alive and well in NA. For instance, if an NA member suddenly stops attending meetings, stops calling friends from the program, or avoids their spiritual life and new ways of behaving, they can be said to have relapsed. This is in part because of tradition, in part because drug addicts tend to see their drug use are more immediately life-threatening.
However it is that you personally define a slip, it’s easy to see both sides of the controversy. Surely, taking a drink or a drug is a relapse, or slipping back into old behaviors. For many in recovery from substance abuse, displaying old behaviors or avoiding new coping mechanisms like regular 12-step meetings is an early warning sign of an eventual slip.
Despite whether you see relapse as the literal use of drugs or alcohol or conform to the popular NA belief in spiritual relapse, the problem most likely lies in the poor formation of a recovery program. Relapsed individuals should take the incident as a sign of a need for change in the way they’ve approached the process of abstaining from intoxicants and use it as inspiration for a return to recovery meetings and literature.