Although treatment programs vary, most try to drive home a sobering statistic so patients take their disease seriously: most alcoholics and addicts in early recovery end up relapsing after treatment at some point. This warning serves to eliminate any notion that completing rehab is a guarantee for a clean and sober life afterward. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma." That suggests anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of people with addiction will experience a relapse after completing a rehab program. The statistics can get even worse for those who only go through detox–85 to 90% of opioid users relapse within the first year after a clinical detox. But there are many people who successfully transition to long term recovery after a relapse as well. So how do those people get back on track?
Addiction is a Chronic Relapsing Disease
Often, addicts and alcoholics who relapse early in recovery are overcome with a sense of shame. They may feel that they have failed at sobriety or aren’t quite ready for a more stable life free of chemical dependency. Early recovery demands a lot of emotional labor, which can easily become overwhelming. It only takes one unmanaged impulse to fall back to the agonizing cravings associated with early sobriety.
But there is one thing that all people in recovery who relapse should remember: Relapse is a disease symptom. It is not a moral failing or character flaw. Addiction is defined as a chronic relapsing disease, meaning that it never goes away and there is always a certain risk of the disease returning even after getting clean and sober. This is why many people in recovery elect to call themselves “recovering" rather than “recovered" even after many years of sobriety.
Relapsing After Treatment: There’s Still Hope
When relapsing after treatment, it may be helpful to consider this a stumble rather than a fall. Recovery is a lifelong journey that includes setbacks, but they don’t have to be full on road blocks. There are many options to help those who relapse get back on track, get sober again, and put a stop to the phenomenon of craving.
No matter what specific option may be chosen, relapses indicate that the current level of support is not sufficient. So it’s important to take action on something and not get trapped by indecision. Any action is better than no action.
Intensive Outpatient Care (IOP) offers a continuance of detox and residential support, but at a level where people can resume life commitments like work or school. Most IOPs offer drug testing as a form of accountability, and they have regular group and individual therapy. Breaking the cycle of chemical dependence requires a long term effort. IOP allows individuals to practice a program of sobriety while facing the normal stresses of life.
Sober support groups are a key tool for many addicts and alcoholics in long term recovery. These spaces offer a forum where people understand the disease of addiction from firsthand experience and will not judge. Newcomers (including people returning after a relapse) are the most important people in any meeting, because they remind everyone there how serious this disease is and encourage everyone to keep trying to help each other. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and SMART Recovery are some of the more popular sober support groups.
Many addicts and alcoholics in recovery find it helpful to work with a person who understands what it takes to be sober long term. Sponsors are an integral part of AA and NA, and they offer crucial guidance in how to work the 12 Steps. They will also offer daily tools to stay sober such as reading out of the big book and calling people in the program.
These are only a few suggestions for how to get back on track after a relapse. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but these resources will also connect you with other strategies for staying clean and sober. Addiction thrives in isolation. Remember that there is always hope for a better life, and that asking for help in your own recovery is an opportunity to help others in the fellowship as well. We are not alone.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse problem, our addiction counselors are available 24/7 by phone: 833.433.0448