Relapse in the Process of Eating Disorder Recovery

Much has been written about the topic of relapse in the process of Eating Disorder (ED) recovery, both from a professional (usually prevention) perspective, as well as a personal (usually experienced) perspective.

However, like other potential aspects of EDs (e.g., severe, irreversible medical complications, death), there is often a denial that this portion of the process “could happen to me/my loved one.”

While it is important to have hope in recovery over the long-term (otherwise, why bother to recover?), it is also crucial to have a realistic view of the ups and downs in a non-linear recovery, to expect relapses, and to plan for them.

This is standard practice with Substance Use Disorder [SUD] treatment, as it is fairly common for people struggling with addictions to have slips in their sobriety.

Two days ago, July 24, 2018, it was announced that Demi Lovato (celebrity, singer, mental health advocate, self-disclosed individual diagnosed with histories of Bipolar Disorder, Self-Harming Behaviors, EDs, and SUDs), was hospitalized from a drug overdose.

The news sent shockwaves through the mental health communities, and reminded people that this is a real possibility in the trajectory of recovery.

In some ways, celebrities have extraordinary pressures on them that make it more likely that they will be triggered and suffer a relapse. In other ways, they are humans like everyone else, and working with the same biological (brain) systems of reward (dopamine) that we all possess.

As we know, mental health disorders (including EDs and SUDs) are not a “choice,” and everyone is worthy of treatment, no matter if it is their first time seeking it, or the hundredth time.


I recently viewed a billboard on the highway which was related to quitting smoking. It had a quote which captivated me, and I thought it was relevant not only for this substance, but all substances, as well as mental health disorders in general. It stated,

“You haven’t failed at quitting. You just haven’t finished the process yet.”

I think it gives a message of hope, and also acknowledges all of the hard work that people have dedicated to previous attempts to quit. Parallel to this, Demi, as with others who have relapsed, have undoubtedly learned a great deal not only from their relapses, but from their long periods of sobriety, and they have not “lost” all of the ground that they have gained.

They may have taken a step back, but they are many steps forward from where they started, and with knowledge/compassion, they can finish the process.


The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)

About the Author: Heather Hower

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Heather, MSW, LICSW, QCSW, ACSW has served on the Board of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) since 2013, and collaborates with her NEDA colleagues on Eating Disorder research studies, papers, and presentations. Through her position at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, she has also been collaborating with her local Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Partial Hospital, Outpatient, and Home-Based clinical programs since 2013.  Heather had Anorexia Nervosa for 23 years, and has been recovered since 2012.

Her blog posts can be found at: NEDA:
Project HEAL: Medium:
Jenni Schaefer:

You can also follow her on Twitter: Instagram: Facebook:
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Charlotte KurzComment