People who abuse drugs and alcohol cannot easily stop their addiction. They usually need treatment before they’re ready to quit on their own. Unfortunately, many people relapse at least once when they get back in the “real world”. People in recovery are warned that they can find themselves back in the cycle of abuse and dependence after just one incident – like on drink or one event of drug use. Not everyone is the same but recovery is always possible, no matter the situation.

Merriam-Webster dictionary provides two definitions for the word relapse: The return of an illness after a period of improvement; a return to bad behavior that you had stopped doing.

Relapse for a drug addict is when he or she succumbs to the temptation and tries a drug or drinks alcohol. Many people overdose on drugs the first time they use after years of sobriety. This study, Rates and Predictors of Relapse after Natural and Treated Remission from Alcohol Use Disorders, followed 461 individuals who either received treatment from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or remained untreated over a period of years.

The study found about 20% to 50% of people who sought treatment relapsed during a short period of time, depending on the severity of their addiction. However, the rate was about 50% to 80% of the individuals who were not treated for addiction. The study also found older, more educated women fared better and typically were able to avoid relapse in both the treated and untreated groups.

The study also found that the people who were most likely to relapse did not have a lot of post-secondary education, were less likely to be employed, and did not try to reduce their drinking at an earlier time in their life. There were four key risk factors for everyone who relapsed, even after they sought treatment. The four risk factors were lack of employment, being less educated, having lifelong drinking problems and more frequent use of alcohol after they first sought treatment.

Some people view drug abuse and dependence in a linear fashion. They do not always understand that abuse can become a cycle from which some people do not escape. The National Institute on Drug Abuse published created a graph (displayed below) which showed the rates of relapse compared to other chronic illnesses.


In order to successfully quit abusing drugs and alcohol, the addict needs to seek treatment. He or she also needs to practice continued vigilance, once he or she leaves treatment and re-enters the world. Sobriety is a lifetime commitment for anyone with a substance abuse problem and it needs to be maintained no matter how many times the person may falter and relapse.