EP 49: Recurrence in Substance Use Recovery Robert Hilliker, LCSW-S, LCDC

There is often so much shame around substance abuse relapse. We have framed it as a failure, but what if we looked at it as an experience that those who have slipped back into addiction can use when beginning their journey of sobriety again? This is just one of the valuable lessons that today’s guest, Robert Hilliker, LCSW-S, LCDC, shares with us. Robert has 17 years of experience in the field of addiction and mental health. His work spans private practice, clinical supervision, and the creation and management of clinical programming. Additionally, he also co-founded The Lovett Center in 2014 and Ethos Wellness in 2018. In this episode, Robert shares how his personal and familial struggles with addiction led him to this line of work. We talk about why it is important to think about addiction through a disease model lens rather than villainizing it. So often, people think about addiction as bad behavior but as something that requires treatment. We also touch on the need to reframe addiction and why it is necessary to remove the shame around it. Our conversation also delves into how the pandemic has impacted people with substance abuse problems, how families and friends of those who have relapsed can deal with it, and we end with a story of hope from Robert.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Get to know Robert and how he came to work in substance abuse.
  • What Ethos Wellness Center and Prairie Recovery Center offer and how they differ from similar centers.
  • Moving past the pejorative understandings of relapse.
  • Insights into the disease model behind substance abuse and addiction.
  • Five key areas of brain activity that are influenced by addiction.
  • One of the biggest challenges when it comes to treating addiction.
  • Rethinking addiction as an attachment disorder; what we can learn from this.
  • It really is very difficult to stay sober if you started using substances early in life.
  • When people look at addiction from the outside, they want to make it seem logical, but it’s very much an emotional issue.
  • We cannot criminalize people who struggle with addiction; it’s a disease.
  • What Robert has seen about reframing relapse as recurrence.
  • Talking about recurrence openly removed the stigma around it.
  • Yellow flags that are common when it comes to recurrence. 
  • It is important for practice and treatment theories to evolve and be exciting.
  • How the pandemic has affected people’s relapsing or others turning to substance abuse.
  • Why hopelessness is what is most worrying to Robert.
  • The pandemic has taken away those in recovery’s role models.
  • There are so many new scenarios that are happening in the pandemic.
  • How Robert believes we can deal with families of those who have relapsed.
  • It is so important for families to be vulnerable and feel the fear, not only the anger.
  • A story of hope from Robert to end the show.


“Our primary way of thinking about it [substance abuse] is that people need more than anything is a meaningful sense of connection and community and that will be a stabilizing force in their lives.” — Robert Hilliker [0:07:25]

“We still treat addiction like it’s bad behavior, like it’s not a brain disorder. And we don’t rehabilitate it as much as we continue to ensure that people are stuck in the environment where it will recur.” — Robert Hilliker [0:20:50]

“The less shame we have around the experience of relapse, the more we promote that people feel willing and are able to be honest and expressive.” — Robert Hilliker [0:25:32]

“If you love someone deeply, it is far more empowering to feel angry with them because that pushes out the fear.” — Robert Hilliker [0:45:13]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Robert Hilliker

Robert Hilliker on LinkedIn

Robert Hilliker Email — [email protected]

Ethos Wellness

The Lovett Center


You can listen here on our website or through the links below. However, we highly recommend subscribing so you can automatically receive each new episode. To do so, click one of the subscribe options below.



Get the latest blogs, events, and more directly in your inbox.