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How Common is Relapse After Rehab
Author: Phil Kosanovich
Published: February 2, 2023
How Common is Relapse After Rehab

Recovering from drug use or alcohol addiction can be a long, tough journey. Overcoming substance abuse is a bit like climbing a mountain: hard work, but when you’ve done it, you’re on top of the world. But as with any journey, you might slip or stumble along the way.

To a certain extent, slippage, or relapse, is part of recovery. Sometimes it takes a fall to show us how much better life is when we’re standing on our own two feet.

Relapses don’t signify failure. Although relapse occurs, it doesn’t mean that everything is lost. If we look for positives as we recover, relapse may help strengthen our ability to deal with further stress and improve our overall recovery.

Drug or Alcohol Addiction Relapse Rates

According to the National Library of Medicine, addictive disorders are chronic and, by their very nature, prone to relapse. Clinical treatment studies indicate that over two-thirds of people in the early recovery period relapse within weeks or months of starting treatment. More than 85% of people relapse and return to old habits of drug or alcohol use within one year of treatment.

Statistics indicate that substance use disorder relapse prevention can be hard work, only one in five people will stay sober in their first year of recovery. Fortunately, addiction relapse rates lessen after the first twelve months, but even after two years of substance abuse recovery, there is still a 40% drug relapse chance.

These results match a growing body of previously reported observations on relapse rates and relapse prevention. So it’s clear that to prevent relapse and give ourselves the best chance on our long-term recovery journey, we need to understand what makes addiction relapse more likely, identify common relapse triggers, and make lifestyle changes that help the recovery process.

The Addiction Myth: Rock Bottom

Perhaps you’ve been told that an addicted person must reach “rock bottom” before attempting recovery from drug abuse or alcohol dependency. It’s a popular belief. The idea is that only by experiencing total loss can we get ourselves into a position where we are motivated to confront drug addiction or alcohol use, remain sober, recover and start coping.

But how would you know you’re at rock bottom? Ultimately, many addictive behaviors can lead to a rock bottom none of us want to reach. So whether you’ve relapsed once or a hundred times, whatever challenges you’re facing to maintain sobriety, today’s the day to restart your addiction recovery. After all, it’s a lifelong journey.

Is Five A Magic Number for Substance Abuse Recovery?

During addiction treatment or group therapy, you may hear someone in a support group say that after five years of sobriety, you’re much less likely to relapse.

If you’re in the early recovery stages, have only just left a drug rehab program, and are struggling with depressive symptoms, that’s an alarming thing to hear.

“Five years?” you might say to yourself, “I’m struggling to go five days.”

But in a way, that’s the point. Five days, five years, or fifty years, you only need to stay sober today. Forget about stats, predictions, and doom and gloom, and concentrate on what’s important and meaningful: a successful recovery is done one day at a time.

Okay, So We Know the Risks of Addiction Relapse, What Next?

If we acknowledge the dangers of relapse, we can start building a day-by-day strategy to keep us healthy, happy, sober, and drug and alcohol-free.

This means accepting that our struggle against alcohol dependency or other substance abuse disorders is a battle never truly won. It won’t go away, and we need to be conscious of our triggers, develop coping mechanisms for our emotions, and equip ourselves with the support needed to maintain our long-term recovery.

How to Avoid Relapse After Rehab

How to Avoid Relapse After Rehab

A relapse doesn’t mean that our drug and alcohol treatment has failed. Substance abuse disorders are chronic conditions. It is inevitable that when dealing with addiction, some people will relapse. In fact, according to NIDA, relapse rates for drug use are similar to those for other chronic medical illnesses.

And just as with the treatment of chronic disease, long-term recovery involves changing our deeply rooted behaviors. If you were recovering from a heart problem and had a heart attack, you’d go back to your doctor. And in the same way, if a person recovering from addiction relapses, they need to seek out specialist support.

Addiction recovery isn’t an all-or-nothing process. You can resume treatment for substance use disorders or, with the right medical advice, try a different treatment approach.

Of course, while relapse is a normal part of recovery, it can still be very dangerous. Perhaps lethally so. If you were using drugs and took the same quantity as you did before quitting, an overdose might occur. Your body won’t be able to cope with the same level of drug exposure.

So let’s look at some strategies that can help us stay sober and drug-free.

Completing Treatment: Don’t Leave Rehab Early

If you don’t complete your treatment program, you’re setting yourself up to fail. By walking out of the door early, you’re denying yourself the help you need.

Yes, rehab and recovery support can be a tough process. There are days when our emotions get the better of us. But happiness won’t be found outside until you’re emotionally and mentally well enough to deal with all the temptations and stresses real life offers. Don’t let your mind trick you, completing your treatment plan will be a milestone you can look back on with pride and help you maintain long-term sobriety.

Keep Up Your Treatment After Rehab

You must receive sufficient aftercare when you leave an addiction treatment center. Your medical detox will have helped you to free yourself from physical dependence on alcohol or drugs, but it’s the psychological dependence that leaves you vulnerable to relapse.

With the proper aftercare and recovery plan, you can change the way you think about yourself, your life, and the substance you abused. By engaging with support groups, attending group therapy, a 12-step program, or counseling, you’ll be helping to support your sobriety and minimize the risk of relapse.

Stay Realistic During Early Recovery

As you step outside your facility’s door, you might be brimming with confidence. You feel in control, you’ve beaten your addiction!


Well, yes and no. You have taken a major step forward, and should be proud. But your recovery is a lifelong journey, and overconfidence can be a stumbling block that topples you straight back into relapse and addiction. Recognize that we’re never completely in control of our addictions and be cautious in setting yourself boundaries in what you do, where you go, and who you meet. You can’t control your addiction, but you can control your actions.

Relaxation Techniques to Deal With Stress

Be mindful of your stress levels and mental health. Anxiety related to employment, finances, and relationships can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. As your stress levels increase, is there whispering in your ear – after all, wasn’t substance abuse the way you dealt with stress before? Even though, of course, it only added even more stress to your life.

Take time to acquire relaxation skills – and practice them. Try meditation, a walk in the country, engaging in positive physical activities, and talking with support groups, family members, or friends.

Look After Your Mental Health

Many relapses are triggered by periods of depression. Look out for any signs of depressive thinking and seek medical help at the earliest opportunity. Are you losing interest in the hobbies or activities you used to enjoy? Avoiding social gatherings? Keeping your distance from loved ones? Feeling bleak, guilty, or tired?

These and other uncomfortable emotions can all be indicative of depression. To prevent relapse, it’s essential that we look after our minds. There are many non-addictive treatment methods and talk therapies that can help you to turn depressed thinking around.

Relapse Prevention Therapy at Cornerstone

Relapse Prevention Therapy at Cornerstone

At Cornerstone, one of Southern California’s best-established treatment centers, we offer innovative relapse prevention therapy.

We recognized the high rate of relapse following traditional drug treatment and developed a therapeutic approach that focuses on preventing relapse.

We understand that a relapse can cause you to feel guilty and blame yourself. These uncomfortable emotions only lead to further destructive behavior.

Relapse Prevention Therapy, or RPT, is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. We will teach you how to mitigate opportunities for relapse and develop coping mechanisms to deal with high-risk situations.

What to Expect

By equipping our patients with all the tools needed to deal with triggering events – people, places, in their daily lives, we help them avoid a painful return to drug or alcohol abuse. By pre-planning for these situations, we’ll help you discover which of your feelings and emotions are intrinsically linked to relapse.

Each of us has recurring patterns of emotions that leave us vulnerable to relapse. Whether it’s boredom, hunger, anger, loneliness, tiredness, or a combination of these and other feelings, RPT will teach you to be aware of these emotions and help you to develop coping mechanisms to minimize their impact.

Together, we’ll explore the role of underlying issues like codependency, enabling behavior, family dynamics, control issues, acceptance, and many other topics that will help you maintain sobriety.

By developing a new code of rigorous honesty, staying connected to your sponsor and the wider treatment community, and making better choices, with our support, you can live a life free from substance abuse, drugs, or alcohol and the risk of future relapse.

Contact us today to discover how RPT can help you on your recovery journey.

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