In a perfect world, recovery from a substance use disorder would be a “one and done” proposition. Ideally, a person would realize he or she has a problem, enter a residential treatment program, graduate to high-quality aftercare, perhaps find a supportive community and caring sponsor in a 12-Step program, and proceed to live a wholly sober life.
And for some people, it goes just like that.
But for lots of other people, it does not.
Relapse is a reality for many, many people. What should you do if you or a loved one experiences a relapse?
Some Relapse Stats
A study of relapse rates suggests that the risk of relapse falls over time, but it never completely disappears.
- As many as two-thirds of people who have been sober for less than a year will experience a relapse.
- After a full year of sobriety, fewer than 50 percent of people will relapse.
- After five years of sobriety, fewer than 15 percent of people will relapse.
The reality is clear: especially early on, the risk of relapse is very, very real.
The Old Bad News, Good News Routine
It perhaps goes without saying that a relapse is bad news. Getting sober is a significant challenge, and it is always a disappointment when sobriety can’t be maintained. In fact, it may be tempting to despair and to give in to the substance use disorder.
When that temptation strikes, it is important to focus on some good news. Because even in the midst of the disappointment of relapse, there is good news.
For example, your support system—the friends and family who helped you pursue treatment and who have been supporting your recovery—is likely still in place. In addition, much of the fear or uncertainty you may have experienced the first time around won’t be present this time.
A return to rehab will also give you an opportunity to dig more deeply into the issues that may contribute to your substance abuse disorder. You will have the opportunity to learn strategies that may help you avoid the triggers that led to the relapse. If you are able to do so, your next attempt at long-term sobriety may well be successful.
Take It From the Top
While it is true that you will have a good idea of what to expect when you return to treatment, it is essential to remember that you will still have to start at the beginning of the process. A relapse requires the same diligent care that a first occurrence does. A new plan will be crafted by the treatment team—and the team will create that plan as though you never stopped using drugs or alcohol.
This may feel like adding insult to injury, but it is important to accept the need to start over when you return to treatment. It may not feel like it at the time, but it is, in fact, the best way to proceed and to lessen the chance of yet another relapse in the future.
Ideally, you will return to treatment right away after a relapse. There is nothing to be gained by delay. Rather than beating yourself up about what might feel like a failure, get yourself back in treatment and start building on your previous successes—even if those successes are incomplete. The pursuit of long-term sobriety is a process. And if you find you need to return to an earlier step in the process, you should do so immediately.
We Are Here to Help, Not to Judge
Maybe you think returning to treatment will subject you to judgement from caregivers. At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, nothing could be further from the truth. We know all about the challenges of staying sober, and we know about the prevalence of relapse. We also know that we have the resources and expertise to help you (or a loved one) get back on the path toward long-standing sobriety. There is no shame in seeking help more than once. In fact, it demonstrates courage and the kind of determination necessary to create the conditions you need to leave drugs or alcohol behind.