Estimates of how many people relapse vary widely, depending on who you ask. Some studies estimate relapse rates are as low as 12 percent, while others estimate they are as high as 90 percent. These variations depend on each study’s definition for addiction and criteria for relapse, as well as different research methods and who’s conducting the study. One frequently cited study from the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that between 40 and 60 percent of people treated for a substance use disorder will relapse within the first year of sobriety. There’s an ongoing argument in the addiction community whether relapse should be considered part of recovery. What seems certain though, is that there is always a strong possibility of relapse and it’s important to know what comes next.
The first thing to realize is that not all relapses are the same. There’s a big difference between a slip-up and a full relapse. A slip-up is relatively easy to fix. For example, you might have a beer, or even several beers, feel terrible about it the next day, and call your sponsor or discuss it at a meeting. In 12-step programs, this means you have to start over. You turn in your chip, go back to day one, and start working the steps again. This can feel discouraging, but it’s not a disaster. You don’t have to go through detox again. You already have a support system in place. All that really remains for you to do is renew your commitment to recovery. Learn what you can from your slip-up, perhaps with the help of your therapist, and try again.
A full relapse is a more serious problem. Perhaps you have that first drink, then you continue to drink for days, weeks, or months. This is clearly an indication that something has gone wrong. Some people let a slip-up turn into a full-blown relapse. They feel like they’ve already ruined their recovery so they might as well go all the way. Others may feel overwhelmed by stress or despair. Whatever the reason, the sooner you get back into recovery the better. You may have to go through medical detox again if you’ve been using long enough to build up a tolerance again. Whether you need to go back into residential treatment depends on your situation. It’s a good idea to discuss it with your therapist or counselor.
Whether or not you decide to go back into treatment, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First, relapse doesn’t mean failure. People can and do relapse several times before going on to have a successful recovery. The important thing is to keep trying. Second, you won’t be starting over from scratch. You probably gained a lot of insight and skills in treatment the first time and you may just need reminding. Also, you probably already have a sober support network, perhaps in the form of a 12-step meeting. People are often embarrassed to go back to meetings after a relapse, but that’s what meetings are for and no one is going to judge you.
Pinnacle Recovery specializes in inpatient rehabilitation, trauma recovery, AA programs and AA alternatives, experiential therapy, dual diagnosis, family therapy, co-occurring and dual diagnosis addictions. We also offer a wide range of sober living and intensive outpatient treatment programs. Call 1-866-301-0573 today for more information.