Of those who recovery from addiction, about 40-60% experience at least one relapse.
The chronic nature of addiction means that relapsing is not only possible but also likely. Addiction relapse rates are similar to those for other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.
Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors. A relapse is not failure. It simply indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed.
But why does relapse happen?
Alcoholics Anonymous members often talk about the phenomenon of the person who relapses and then returns to AA only to report that their disease progressed during the time they were in recovery. Likewise, research reported by NIAAA demonstrates that the person who relapses will drink more, and faster, at each relapse. They are quick to point out that this phenomenon is not definitive and much more research is needed:
“More direct evidence supporting increased alcohol consumption as a consequence of repeated withdrawal experience comes from animal studies linking dependence models with self-administration procedures. For example, rats exposed to chronic alcohol treatment interspersed with repeated withdrawal episodes consumed significantly more alcohol than control animals under free-choice, unlimited access conditions. Similar results have been reported in mice, with voluntary alcohol consumption assessed using a limited access schedule. Likewise, studies using operant procedures have demonstrated increased alcohol self-administration in mice with a history of repeated chronic alcohol exposure and withdrawal experience. “ (NIAA)
If we do not know the exact mechanism of physical relapse, we do know how it affects people.
Long-suffering families who had hoped the storm was over certainly are distressed with the relapse of a loved one. Trust is broken, and the family system is once more at risk. There may be a loss of income, status, and trust on every level.
The relapse consequences for the user are even more acute, and may lead to hopelessness, shame, and a profound sense of failure. It is helpful to understand that relapse is a part of this disease. The best response to relapse is to return to treatment, with hope and courage.
We can start you on the road to recovery.
NIAAA Publications. (n.d.). Retrieved January, 2017.
THE BASICS – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (n.d.). Retrieved January, 2017.
The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics … (n.d.). Retrieved January, 2017.