Why Relapse Does Not Mean Failure
Relapse is a huge part of my journey to recovery. I spent four long years gathering up a few months of sobriety here and there, but always returning to drinking. Sometimes I ended up drinking because I was angry, mad or hurt, and sometimes seemingly for no reason! One of the hardest things about that time was the shame and guilt I felt about my relapses and how horribly difficult it was to start over so many times. At some point I started believing that no matter how hard I tried, I would never get sober for good – I was just not capable of living as a sober human being and I was going to die a drunk anyways.
But what I wish I would have known was that I was not a failure, and that addiction/alcoholism relapse is quite common.
Studies suggest that approximately half of all individuals who try to get clean/sober return to heavy use, and short-term remission rates are between 20 and 50%. In other words, not many people say “I want to quit,” put down the bottle, walk into a rehab or a 12-step meeting, and never use drugs or alcohol again. (ref: here)
Relapse rates (i.e., how often symptoms recur) for people with addiction and other substance use disorders are similar to relapse rates for other well-understood chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried.
So please if you have relapsed even several times, do not get discouraged or feel like a failure. Just keep trying! With each relapse you still learn new things about yourself and your addiction, and most of all you learn what to do, or what not to do the next time a desire to pick up overwhelms you.
On the other hand, even though relapse back to alcohol and drug use is quite common in the recovery process, at the same time it is not necessary. If you are just starting out, it is really important at the early stage of recovery to develop a good relapse prevention plan, and gather up as many tools as possible. The more tools that you have in the toolbox, the more likely that you will have the right tool when the need arises.
For great tips on relapse prevention, check out this article: 5 Ways to Avoid Addiction Relapse
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)*, please check out the Sober Courage menu at the top of this page for an extensive list of support groups and recovery related articles.
*Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “Alcohol Use Disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. (Ref: NIAAA)