The often-repeated mantra, “relapse is part of recovery” is a dangerous statement, because in some individual’s eyes, it gives permission to a recovering addict/alcoholic to drink or use again, simply because it is expected and inevitable.
Relapse is not permissible… it is NEVER okay… and a person who is trying to recover should do everything in their power to avoid the people, places, and things that could trigger a return to drinking and drugging.
However, because of the insidious nature of the disease of addiction, the reality of the situation must be faced – relapse is always entirely possible.
Because addiction is a chronic disease, relapse at some point is not just possible; it is in fact, quite likely.
Take a look at how the rate of relapse/non-adherence is similar between addiction and other chronic illnesses –
• 40 %-60 % of drug addicts relapse at some point
• 30%-60% of people with Type I Diabetes do not follow their prescribed plan
• 50%-70% of people with hypertension are non-compliant with their diet/medication plan
• 50%-70% of people with asthma do not take their medication correctly
As you can see, relapse/non-adherence is typical, with comparable rates across these illnesses.
What is important to remember is that all chronic diseases are treated/managed by changing behaviors. Often, those behaviors have become deeply-embedded over time, and when a relapse occurs, it does not mean that the treatment plan is a failure.
What it does mean is that either there needs to be a re-dedication and refocusing on the existing treatment plan or an alternative plan should be attempted. Relapse should serve as an impetus for renewed intervention.
It should come as no surprise that extended abstinence is an excellent predictor of long-term recovery. In an eight-year study of almost 1200 addicts, the following conclusions were reached –
• Approximately one-third of individuals who abstain from alcohol/drugs less than one year will remain abstinent.
• Among those individuals who are able to achieve at least one year of sobriety, less than half will suffer a relapse.
• Once five years of sobriety is achieved, the chance of relapse is less than 15 percent.
So the question must be asked – how can a person who’s new to recovery maximize his or her chances of success and minimize the chances of a relapse?
Especially during the first year of recovery, extra effort towards continued abstinence must be made.
• The longer an individual stays in rehab, the better chance they have at success. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, 35% of people who are in treatment for less than 90 days relapse within the first year, compared to 17% of those who were in treatment for more than 90 days.
• In another study, people who drop out of treatment before 90 days have a relapse rate comparable to people who were only in treatment for a day or two.