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Everything You Need to Know About Relapsing from Drug and Alcohol Addiction

“I knew I had to change my life. But addiction is a f****** tricky thing. I think I relapsed within… three weeks? And within a month it had ramped right back to where it was before. That’s what really freaked me out. That’s when I knew: I either get help, or I am going to die.”

~ Eminem

Relapsing from drug addiction or alcoholism is a real worry for many former users, and it was no different for American rapper and songwriter Eminem. Relapse is a serious concern that can have serious consequences. Eminem’s relapse gave him a renewed motivation to get clean.

Do You Have Questions About Addiction? Call Our Recovery Experts Now.

Thankfully, he had that opportunity.

For others, relapsing can be deadly.

Relapses are common and dangerous. But the risk of relapse shouldn’t keep someone from going to rehab or trying to get sober.

Relapses often happen, but they don’t always happen. The more you know about drug and alcohol relapse, the more prepared you can be if you or a loved one is at risk of a relapse.

If you are wondering what percent of alcoholics relapse after rehab or how many drug addicts relapse after reaching sobriety, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to find the answers to these questions:

  • What does it mean to relapse?
  • What are the chances of relapsing once you’re sober?
  • Why are relapses so common?
  • What causes a relapse?
  • What are the statistics about relapsing?
  • Are relapses dangerous?
  • How can I avoid a relapse?
  • How can Evergreen Drug Rehab help me?

What Does It Mean to Relapse?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines relapse as the act of backsliding or worsening, or a recurrence of symptoms after a period of improvement.

For former alcoholics or drug addicts, this means once again abusing the substance after being sober or clean for some time. Sometimes, relapse happens very quickly - for example, Eminem relapsed after barely three weeks. Other times, a relapse can happen years after the former addict has committed to sobriety.

A relapse does not mean that the former addict has failed, it simply means that they need more help.

A drug relapse or alcohol relapse can happen no matter how strong-willed you are or how long it has been since you’ve used a substance. But a relapse isn’t the end of your sobriety journey. A relapse can help you further commit to a life without substance abuse.

Obviously, it’s best, safest, and easiest to never relapse at all. There are several ways to avoid relapse or prevent relapse, as we’ll discuss below.

A relapse is using again, not using forever.

Keep reading to learn how common relapses are, why they’re so common, and what methods can be used to avoid a relapse.

The Odds of Relapsing After Sobriety

What are the Chances of Relapsing Once You’re Sober?

Doctors and experts agree that the chances of a relapse after you have gotten sober from alcoholism or a drug addiction are very high. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that between 40-60% of drug abusers or alcoholics will relapse at some point after getting sober.

This can be very discouraging for recovering drug addicts or alcoholics. They may think, “Why get sober if I’ll just fall right back into old habits with drug or alcohol?” But sobriety IS worth it. A relapse does not mean that you have failed.

Relapse also doesn’t mean that treatment for drug addiction or alcoholism isn’t working.

Take, for example, the fact that relapse rates for asthma or hypertension are between 50-70%. That is significantly higher than the relapse rates for drug or alcohol addiction. But those relapse rates don’t keep people from seeking treatment for those conditions, and a relapse doesn’t mean that the treatment isn’t working.

A relapse is simply a sign that treatment should be resumed, changed, or reevaluated.

Like with hypertension and asthma, the effects of an addiction to drugs or alcohol are far worse than the chance of relapse. Treatment can be used to make the symptoms of your addiction less intense or appear less often. Sometimes, treatment is a cure.

If you or someone you care about has relapsed, you’re not alone. Many, many people relapse from drugs and alcohol. In fact, those who have relapsed from drug addiction or alcoholism include many celebrities, such as:

  • Robert Downey Jr.
  • Keith Urban
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Lindsay Lohan
  • Eminem
  • Demi Lovato
  • Michael Jackson

It’s important to note that the longer you can stay sober or abstain from drugs and alcohol, the less likely a relapse becomes. Most relapses happen within the first year after an alcoholic or drug addict makes the decision to be clean or sober. If a former user can achieve sobriety for 5 years, their chance of relapsing becomes less than 15%.

Why Are Relapses So Common?

What is it that makes relapses so common for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics? The answer comes from knowing that addiction is a disease.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease. As a disease, it shares many characteristics with other diseases, such as:

  • Physically changing some part of your body (in the case of drug and alcohol addiction, the brain)
  • Being inescapable - not being a choice, but rather, a reality
  • Having the potential to relapse, even if it’s been responding positively to treatment

Consider cancer. If someone has had cancer, there is a chance for a relapse no matter how successful treatment has been. Relapse is in the very nature of the disease. The same is true for drug addiction and alcoholism as is true for cancer.

What’s more, there are actually more people in the United States suffering from some sort of addiction than are suffering from diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

We recognize the gravity of these other diseases because they affect so many people and respond by advocating for and donating to better treatment options, even when relapse is a possibility. Since addiction affects even more Americans, doesn’t it seem obvious that we should pursue better treatment options and support others in their recovery, despite the chance of relapse?

“It is 10 years since I used drugs or alcohol and my life has improved immeasurably. I have a job, a house, a cat, good friendships and, generally, a bright outlook… The price of this is constant vigilance because the disease of addiction is not rational.”

~ Russell Brand

Russell Brand knows that sobriety isn’t easy, but he also knows that sobriety is worth it. His life got better when he chose to stop using drugs and alcohol, even at the price of constantly thinking about the probability of a relapse.

The same can be true for you. Addiction is a disease, and it can be deadly. But if you know the most common reasons for relapse and how to prevent a relapse, you can be ready to fight back if you or a loved one may relapse. Keep reading to find out how.

What Causes Relapses to Occur?

One of the most common reasons for a relapse to occur is that the withdrawal symptoms become too much to bear for the former user.

The symptoms of withdrawal are caused by the body’s physical dependence on a drug or alcohol. The body becomes accustomed to the extra substance. When the substance is taken away, and the body begins to detox, several things can happen depending on the severity of the physical dependence.

Common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, like body aches and runny nose
  • Intense cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Painful, chronic headaches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia or fatigue
  • Hallucinations

As you can see, the symptoms of withdrawal can be severe, unpleasant, and dangerous. It’s easy to imagine how such symptoms would make an addict decide to slip back into drug or alcohol use rather than endure them.

    Other reasons for relapse include strong emotions such as stress, overconfidence, or self-pity.

    Stress causes relapse when the user begins to think that drinking alcohol or using drugs is the only way to control the situation. In the case of relapse, positive stress (like a promotion, an engagement, or a acceptance to a prestigious school) can be just as impactful as negative stress (such as the death of a loved one, a failed relationship, or the loss of a job).

    Overconfidence causes relapse when the user begins to think that he is more in control of himself than he is. If a user begins to think that he is in control of his addiction, he is likely mistaken. As soon as the opportunity presents itself to use drugs or alcohol again, the user is likely to abuse the substance.

    Self-pity causes relapse when the user rationalizes drug use by telling himself that he isn’t worth the battle for sobriety. Sometimes when life doesn’t go the way we’d like, we give up on other things that are important - like sobriety.

    There are also certain situations that make the chance of a relapse more likely.

    One situation that makes a relapse more likely is by putting yourself in situations where the substance is being used. When everyone around you is using drugs or alcohol, you’re more likely to do the same thing.

    Another risky situation is being around people with whom you used to use the substance who have not yet decided to pursue sobriety. It is likely that these people do not see the harm in their using drugs or alcohol, making it all the more likely that they will try to persuade you to use again.

    Situations of great change are also risky. Regardless of how stressed you feel during change, your own loss of control can have the same effect. In these times, it’s easy to slip back into habits that we’re familiar with - like using drugs or alcohol.

Facts and Statistics About Relapse

It can be helpful to know the chance of relapse after achieving sobriety by looking at the facts. This can help you make informed decisions and know more about your likelihood of relapsing from drugs and alcohol.

Here are the numbers:

  • Of those who have been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for less than a year, only one-third will not relapse
  • Of those who have been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for at least one year, only one-half will relapse.
  • Of those who have been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for at least five years, only 15% will relapse.
  • In 2014, 27 million Americans over the age of 12 used illicit drugs.
  • In 2014, 16.3 million Americans were heavy alcohol users.
  • Of those who complete treatment programs shorter than 90 days, only 31% complete one year of sobriety.

As you can see, someone’s odds of avoiding a relapse increase the longer they can abstain from drugs or alcohol.

Hopefully, these statistics encourage you. You or your loved one are not alone in your recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, and you are not alone in your journey to avoid a relapse.

Are Relapses Dangerous?

Relapsing back to drug or alcohol use can be extremely dangerous. There are two main dangers of relapses: the danger of perpetuating an unhealthy cycle, and the heightened risk of an overdose. Both are unhealthy outcomes and can have severely negative consequences - including death.

When you originally become addicted to a substance, whether drugs or alcohol, your body learns to depend on it. This is the physical dependence that causes withdrawal symptoms.

When you’ve started the recovery process, your body begins to learn to live without the drugs or alcohol. By relapsing, you are hindering the body’s recovery process. Your relapse tells your body that you do indeed need the substance in order to function.

The more you convince your body of this, the harder it will be to get clean afterwards. Often, the more frequently that an addict has relapsed, the more time they need to spend in rehab before their body can return to normal.

Depending on what substance you are addicted to, dependency can have unpleasant side effects depending upon the severity of your addiction. These side effects include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Shaking
  • Runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Seizures

When you are first addicted to a substance, your body slowly builds up tolerance by becoming more and more used to the drug or alcohol. As it does, you need to drink more or use more of the drug to get the same effect.

Once you’ve gotten clean from a drug or stopped drinking alcohol, your body has detoxed and is no longer used to the drug.

Many people who relapse try to immediately use the same amount of the drug or alcohol as they were accustomed to using before they got sober. Because the body is no longer used to the drug or alcohol, the user overdoses.

An overdose is an excessive or dangerous amount of a drug, and often leaves drug users hospitalized or dead.

How Can I Avoid a Relapse from Drug or Alcohol Addiction?

It’s not always possible to avoid a relapse. Sometimes it’s things outside of our control - like genetics - that make us more susceptible to relapse from drug addiction and alcoholism. However, there are measures you can take that decrease your chances for relapsing.

The best way to prevent yourself from a relapse is finding structured help in your recovery and sobriety journey.

This video has several pieces of advice for those hoping to avoid a relapse.

There are many options for treatment programs and other systems of accountability.

Some programs, like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, focus on meeting regularly with recovering addicts and helping them change how they view their addiction and how they deal with it. For many people, groups like these are helping because they always have someone to ask for help if they feel they might relapse.

These programs guide members through 12 steps to recovery. For Alcoholics Anonymous, these steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Inpatient rehab programs are those in which patients live in the facility for some period of time as they recover.

These programs tend to be:

  • More time consuming
  • More expensive

But they also tend to be more effective, as they offer:

  • Trained professionals 24/7
  • Structured schedules to keep patients from thinking about the substance they’re getting clean from
  • Medical professionals to oversee detox and withdrawal
  • Removal from unhealthy people and situations

Inpatient treatment facilities often have the best success rates in initially getting drug addicts and alcoholics clean.

Outpatient treatment facilities are those in which patients come regularly for treatment, but do not live there.

Outpatient treatment facilities are generally less effective because of the lack of structure and constant accountability, but they do provide:

  • More independence for patients
  • Lower cost
Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue

How Can Evergreen Drug Rehab Help Me?

“I finally said, ‘You know what? I don’t think I can continue doing this.’ And I reached out for help, and I ran with it.”

~ Robert Downey Jr.

It’s difficult to recover from drug addiction or alcoholism and avoid a relapse, but it’s much easier with help. You are not alone in your recovery journey, and there are drug and alcohol rehab programs in Washington State that can help you.

One of these programs is Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue. We are committed to helping people and their families who suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism. We want you to get sober and stay sober - avoiding a relapse from addiction.

Want to know if you’re addicted? Take our quizzes:

If you know that you’d like to start rehab, but aren’t sure how to pay for it, check out our guide.

You can also get more information about drug addiction, alcoholism, relapse, and rehab by reading our blog or watching our video testimonials.

Our Mission: Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue is here to provide you with a clear vision of hope. Our mission is to provide a safe, helpful and supportive recovery environment that helps build the foundation for a successful future. We operate with the utmost respect for every individual that passes through our doors. Our commitment to excellence means doing good for others and engaging in innovative, empirically-based treatment. In short, our mission is to help people get their lives back and show them respect and empathy in the process.

Are you looking for drug rehab in Washington state? We invite you to consider Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue. We want to see an end to you or your loved one’s addiction, and we want to see it end for good - avoiding all chances of relapse after achieving sobriety.

We want recovery to be achievable for you or your loved one, and we want it to be quick, safe, affordable, and final.

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