Relapsing After Rehab – What Are The Statistics?
The danger of relapse can be a constant one, but it doesn’t mean that relapse cannot be successfully avoided. A relapse can also be overcome if it is treated as a setback on the road to recovery, rather than the end of that road.
Get FREE Confidential Advice About Rehab and Relapse
If you are concerned about drug or alcohol relapse, contact our team at Action Rehab. We can help support you throughout your rehabilitation and recovery process.GET IN TOUCH TODAY
But what exactly is a relapse and how common a problem is it following rehab and other types of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction?
What is a Relapse?
One dictionary definition of relapse is ‘to become ill or start behaving badly again, after making an improvement’.1
In terms of addiction recovery, both of those things can apply. Relapsing involves returning to drugs or alcohol after seemingly managing to quit or drastically reduce your intake. It can be known as ‘falling off the wagon’ (especially with alcohol) and it presents a serious challenge for many people struggling with addiction and recovery.
A relapse could see the start of a gradual or sudden spiral back into old habits and the illness of addiction – but it doesn’t have to.
Relapse can be discouraging of course, but it doesn’t have to spell the end of the recovery journey. With the right support in place, or using the strategies and tools you develop in rehab, you can successfully overcome a relapsing episode.
With that said, it is better to avoid relapse in the first place and again, the things you learn in rehab can help you do this. It’s worth noting that relapse can be potentially dangerous, especially with some drugs like opioids and cocaine.
Long-term drug use can see you build a tolerance to the substance and this tolerance can reduce as you go through recovery. This means that using the same amount or strength of drugs that you used to could now be too much for your system, increasing the risk of an overdose.
How Many People Relapse After Treatment?
The answer to the question of how many people relapse, especially after rehab, is not a straightforward one.
It certainly seems that the overall relapse rates for people undergoing some form of drug or alcohol treatment are very high. The US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that between 40% and 60% of people with substance use disorders will relapse.2
Other studies suggest that the figure could be as high as 65% to 70% in the 90-day period following treatment.3
Addiction is characterised as a relapsing condition though and NIDA points out that these relapse rates are comparable to a number of other chronic illnesses.
Hypertension and asthma both have relapse rates of between 50% to 70% for example, yet treatment for these illnesses are generally deemed to have been successful without accounting for potential future relapses. Addiction treatments, on the other hand, can be seen as having failed if a relapse occurs.
NIDA says that drug addiction “should be treated like any other chronic illness, with relapse serving as a trigger for renewed intervention”.4
Outpatient vs Inpatient Rehab Recovery Rates
These overall relapse rates also apply to everyone undergoing treatment for drug addiction and substance misuse issues and disorders. Government figures show that 98% of people undergoing treatment for drugs and alcohol in 2019-20 received their treatment in a community-based setting.
This is the sort of treatment overwhelmingly provided through drug and alcohol services available on the NHS. Only 2% received treatment in a residential setting like that provided by a private rehab.5
This means the relapse estimates given above cannot be readily applied to residential drug and alcohol rehabs.
An NHS report examining the role residential rehab has to play within an overall drug and alcohol treatment system also noted that residential rehabs typically dealt with people with the most severe addiction problems, who might have already been through failed community-based treatment programmes and have “longer and more entrenched drug and alcohol misusing careers”.
Despite this, the report found that “the very best rehabs see three-quarters of their residents overcome addiction”.6
Not all residential rehabs perform so well, however, and some residents’ recoveries might also include periods of relapse and further treatment along the way.
Another relevant study found that the average number of attempts to recover from addiction was not what most people actually experienced. Subjects of the study had experienced an average of five ‘serious attempts’ at recovery. The median (or middle value) was closer to two or three however, and the mode (or most commonly occurring number) was a single serious attempt.7
What all this means is that if one person tried to quit a dozen times, this would pull the average up for the majority of people who only required one serious attempt to quit.
How Can I Avoid Drug and Alcohol Relapse?
The evidence would suggest that residential rehab remains the single most effective way to treat a serious addiction problem and avoid relapse moving forward. This is partly because a rehab programme will include a range of therapies aimed at helping you to explore your behaviours and patterns of thinking, as well as the root causes of your substance misuse.
You will also take part in sessions where you will develop tools to help you avoid relapsing when faced with triggers, temptations, stresses and strains. Finally, you will also have access to an aftercare package designed to provide you with structured support in those crucial months following rehab.
There can still be challenging times ahead though and relapse will remain a possibility. It’s important to view any relapse as a bump but one that can be successfully navigated as you continue your recovery.