Internet Addiction

The Power of Relapse in Recovery

Disclaimer: Every situation is unique. These are just possible guidelines for your consideration. They may or may not apply to you. No part of this article is medical advice. Please use your discretion and common sense. When in doubt, seek help from your own medical professional--not from this blog post.

Recently a developer interviewed me. He was working on a cell phone app to help its users develop healthy relationships with the internet. He asked me for things I keep in mind when coaching for digital detox. One of the most important things we talked about was the power of relapse in recovery, and how to harness it.

Relapse can be frightening, and certainly is not something to strive for purposefully. But it is a reality of recovery. And with the right approach it can be explored and harnessed for success.

Here are key points to keep in mind:

Relapse is NOT Failure

The first thing to address is that relapse is not failure. There is no need to label it as failure, nor associate with it it feelings of guilt, self-worth, or lack of progress. Relapse is an inevitable aspect of recovery that may happen multiple times.

Recognize that for every success story, there are multiple relapse stories. Someone clean for 100 days may relapse the next day. Another person in successful recovery for years may have had to relapse continually to get to that point.

Relapse may feel like a lonely place. Recognize that being clean is often broadcast and advertised; relapse is not. Both are necessary aspects of recovery. Labeling one as positive and the other as negative can be damaging to recovery.

One of the most difficult issues with detoxing from gaming or the internet is the stigmatization from society, parents, friends, and even from the person in recovery. Parents especially can have extreme difficulty with their children’s equally extreme internet habits, and can react poorly when relapse happens. While completely understandable, it is not helpful.

Negative labeling and judgement kills motivation and hope, and ultimately impedes successful recovery.

Instead, consider that:

Relapse is a Key Part of Recovery

It is important to see relapse as an important opportunity for self exploration and growth. Relapse grants, through first hand experience, the chance to figure out what each person’s individual triggers are. It is entirely one thing to discuss these things in theory with a professional, and another to have the experience directly.

Relapse allows discovery of what is unfulfilling in one’s life. It helps explore what empty spaces gaming or internet habits are fulfilling. This vital information is required for success. A person in recovery learns more each time relapse happens.

Additionally, coming out of relapse can become easier each time. One marker of good progress in recovery is how well one responds to relapse. Each individual’s process is unique and requires experience to discover.

Therefore, relapse is a chance to progress and ultimately be successful in each person’s individual journey of recovery. It is important to fully explore relapse without judgement or labeling. And anyone involved with the person in recovery can hopefully continue support through this crucial time in recovery as well.

Further Reading: An article with guidelines for parents can be found here, and an article for gamers can be found here.

Dr. Diana Yang, L.Ac., DACM is the founder of Limbic Acupuncture in San Francisco. Limbic Acupuncture is the first clinic in the United States to specialize in Chinese Medicine for Internet Gaming Disorder. A former intern at Restart Life, she is a licensed acupuncturist and life coach. She is a firm believer that gamers are some of the most brilliant people in the world, and that the way to win IRL is to “Think Outside the Skinner Box.” Follow her on Facebook.

Q & A with Diana Yang, The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine @ The California Institute of Integral Studies

Recently my graduate alma mater, the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, did a Q and A with me about internet and gaming addiction in my private practice. Special thanks to Rachele Lam. See the full interview here.