What Percentage of Patients Will Relapse in the First Year of Treatment?

Vulnerability to addiction relapse is a serious issue, with studies showing that more than 85% of people relapse and return to using drugs within one year of treatment. Alcohol and opioids have the highest relapse rates, with some studies indicating an alcohol relapse rate of up to 80 percent and an opioid relapse rate of up to 80 to 95 percent during the first year after treatment. Other substances with notoriously high relapse rates include stimulants and benzodiazepines. The relapse rate for substance use disorder leads some to suggest that relapse should be an expected part of recovery, but this is not necessarily true.

While a frequently cited Journal of the American Medical Association study shows that relapse rates for all substance use disorders are 40 to 60%, this rate does not accurately predict a person's long-term recovery. It is important to note that relapse is always a possibility, even after many decades, so it is important to continue to monitor the disease on a daily basis. It can be difficult to return to recovery after a relapse. For someone who has lived in recovery, there is an added layer of guilt and shame.

To deal with this during treatment, it is important to return to the beginning of the illness and examine the underlying cause of the relapse. It is also important to separate feelings of guilt and shame from the process of recovery. When someone first enters treatment, it is important to help them understand their illness and what recovery entails. When it comes to treatment after a relapse, it is important to evaluate what does not work for them and why, and review their recovery strategy accordingly.

It is also important to be aware of triggers that could lead to a downward spiral. Reaching milestones such as six months or one year in recovery can also be dangerous periods, as many people leave their program at that time thinking they have changed and have it under control. Ultimately, recovery is a process that may require a re-evaluation of a person's management plan or require the need to recharge. There are no shortcuts to doing the hard work of maintaining sobriety, which means moving beyond understanding addiction as a chronic illness to a deep acceptance that living in recovery requires daily lifelong vigilance.

Ideally, we want to help prevent relapse whenever possible through a personalized recovery strategy. However, relapse should never be equated with failure. The important thing is that the person has created a strong support network to immediately address the relapse and get back on track.