relapse vs lapse

The Difference Between “Lapse” and “Relapse”

One of the saddest things one can face, if you are struggling with sobriety in any form, is the temptation day after day. The temptation to want just one more drink or to get high again. Thinking these thoughts does not make you weak.  It makes you human – and by definition, fallible.

So, it’s okay to have thoughts of occasionally wishing you could engage in your addiction again. One cannot define how any one recovery is going to go for any one person. However, it’s safe to say that no recovery, for any person, is ever going to be perfect. At Shadow Mountain Recovery, we work hard to have great rehab success rates.

Does this mean you may slip and engage in your addiction only once, or a few times?  Maybe. Because, like previously stated, it’s different for everyone. Some people have recoveries where they never engage in their addiction again, even if they think about it.  Others will still achieve recovery, but the road may be a bit bumpier. And that’s okay.

But please, if you are in recovery, or wanting to be in recovery, do not ever think if you “mess up” only once, or even a few times, that you’ve lost it all, you’ve screwed up too much, and that you might as well just give up.

This isn’t true.

Yes, there is always a chance of relapse, for anybody who ever embarks on the recovery journey, but relapse is a choice, and not everyone needs to make it. But, as also stated above, recovery is never perfect. So, wherein lies the difference between recovering, but still maybe having messed up, and completely relapsing, and needing treatment again?

The difference is this: there is a vast difference between a “lapse” and a “relapse.”





a temporary failure of concentration, memory, or judgment.

“a lapse of concentration in the second set cost her the match”

synonyms: failure, failing, slip, error, mistake, blunder, fault, omission, hiccup; slip-up

In the definition of “lapse,” I want you to pay attention to a couple of things.  First, the word TEMPORARY.  Also, down below, read the synonyms.  Sure, “failure” sounds shocking, but what about “mistake,” “hiccup,” or “slip-up”?

That sounds pretty fixable to me.  A lapse is simply what even the definition says – a temporary breach in recovery. But completely changeable.

Inversely, look that this:





(of someone suffering from a disease) suffer deterioration after a period of improvement.

synonyms: get ill/worse again, have/suffer a relapse, deteriorate, degenerate, take a turn for the worse

The definition of relapse sounds much more ominous, doesn’t it?  You read words like “deteriorate,” or “take a turn for the worse.”

No one is perfect, and neither will be your recovery, or anyone else’s.  So please don’t think that due to one mistake, or one slip-up, that you have to run head-first into your addiction again. It’s just a lapse. Chin up. Be brave. Keep going.

Also know that if you have relapsed, that it is okay.  It does not have to be the story of the rest of your life. But it does mean that you need to reach out, and to get help.

There is always help, and always hope.