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Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Does Relapse Mean Failure? 4 Reasons Why it Does not

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When you relapse while trying to stay sober, it can feel like a crushing defeat. It is important to remember that relapsing is very common, and it doesn’t mean you will never get sober. Substance use disorders are chronic conditions with a high rate of relapse, but many people successfully get sober even after multiple relapses. While it doesn’t feel good to relapse, and in many cases relapsing is quite dangerous, they can be useful sources of information about the nature of your addiction. The crucial thing is not to give up hope and to continue pushing ahead.

1. Relapse is Common

For people who try to get sober on their own without outside help, relapse is almost an inevitability. They may succeed in withdrawing completely from their substance of choice, but more often than not they will continue to experience cravings and obsessive thoughts about drugs or alcohol. Without a strong support system and a sober toolkit, most people ultimately succumb to the urge to abuse substances. It isn’t a matter of lacking willpower. Without treatment, substance use disorders are unmanageable.

Even people who do get treatment have fairly high rates of relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 40% to 60% of people who attend rehab ultimately relapse. These rates of relapse are comparable to the rates seen with other chronic illnesses, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma, which have relapse rates of 50% to 70%. Relapsing doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work — it means that treatment takes work.

2. Addiction is a Mental Health Disorder

Addiction, which the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) refers to as substance use disorder, is a recognized mental health condition. It is common for people who relapse to consider themselves failures, or to conclude that they lack sufficient willpower to manage their substance use. The reality is that substance use disorders are brain diseases that literally make it impossible for a person to manage their substance use disorders on their own.

Substance use disorders create insatiable cravings, decrease a person’s ability to feel joy or motivation without substances, and increase their response to stress. Addictions also cause neurological changes in areas of the brain linked to controlling inhibitions, regulating emotions and behavior, and making decisions. If you relapse – even if you relapse multiple times – it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means you have a health condition.

3. Relapse Provides New Information

When you relapse, it doesn’t mean that you will never get sober. In fact, a relapse can give you new information about what sort of treatment you need. If you’re not currently enrolled in an outpatient rehab and you relapse while trying to get sober on your own, that might be the push you need to begin asking for help. If you are participating already in a treatment program, a relapse can be a sign that you need to alter your treatment plan. This might entail learning new relapse prevention techniques. Depending on the nature and cause of your relapse, your new treatment plan might involve tackling underlying mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. When you relapse, you learn more about what drives your substance abuse habits – and that gives you new information about what steps you need to take.

4. Recovery is a Process

It is important to recognize that substance use disorders, as chronic conditions, cannot be “cured.” Even after attending a quality outpatient rehab, an addiction is never truly gone. Recovery is a lifelong process. While a substance use disorder may never entirely disappear, it can be put in remission by making use of treatment programs, sober tools, and peer support. It is important to strive for progress, not perfection. Your path to long term sobriety may be rocky, but a relapse doesn’t mean it’s over.

Getting Help After a Relapse

If you have relapsed on your recovery journey, take heart and know that you are not alone. Countless others have relapsed before and taken it as an opportunity to change their treatment approach. There is no such thing as a relapse that is “too big” to recover from. The key is to take action as soon as possible.

NuView Treatment Center is an outpatient program for addiction located in West Los Angeles. We offer individualized treatment plans for people at all stages of the recovery journey. Whether you need the acute care offered by our partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) or the support of our standard outpatient programs, we are here for you. Our highly trained and compassionate staff provide the latest evidence-based treatment methods, specifically tailoring to the needs of each individual client.

If you have recently relapsed or fear that a relapse is approaching, NuView Treatment Center can help you develop the skills and coping techniques you need to handle the challenges of sobriety. Graduates of our outpatient programs continue to receive support long after finishing rehab. Our treatment team helps design aftercare treatment plans so that alumni can continue to pursue recovery as they rebuild their lives. Our goal at NuView Treatment Center is to ensure not only that our clients get sober, but that they stay sober while leading joyful and fulfilling lives.

If you are ready to make a change, reach out to NuView Treatment Center today.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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