According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), over 15 million American adults have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) at any given time, marked by frequent drinking with the inability to control the amount consumed or stop easily. When a person receives treatment for addiction to any substance, relapse is common, but alcohol relapse rates are thought to be much higher than in other substance use disorders.
Alcoholics, more than addicts to other substances, often try to get sober without professional treatment from a dedicated facility, whether inpatient or outpatient. Here’s a look at why alcohol relapse is so common and how treatment facilities can work to help alcoholics achieve long-lasting sobriety.
Alcohol Relapse Rates
To understand the numbers pertaining to alcohol relapse, we first have to look at relapse rates for substance use disorders (SUDs) as a whole. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an addict who gets clean through any means will relapse at about a 40 to 60 percent rate. Of course, not all detox and treatment are created equal, but these numbers are consistent with other common chronic diseases.
When taken alone, however, alcohol relapse rates are thought to be considerably higher than in SUDs as a whole. According to the NIAAA, 90 percent of those who detox from an alcohol use disorder will relapse at least once within four years.
The numbers on alcohol relapse are not all so discouraging: the numbers consistently showed that the more time that passed without a relapse, the better the odds were that a given person would experience permanent recovery.
Why Are Alcohol Relapse Rates so High?
As reported by US News & World Report, drugs and alcohol actually change the chemistry of the brain so that when a person becomes dependent, it’s extremely difficult to function without the presence of the substance in question. Alcohol relapse rates seem to be even higher because of a few factors. It’s socially acceptable to start drinking as a young adult. Binge drinking on college campuses is common, and some studies are finding new and increased danger when it comes to teens and young adults taking part.
Alcohol is also not like many other illicit substances, which are used in private for the most part. American society has very few issues with drinking, and alcohol is sold at sporting events, bowling alleys, arcades and nearly every restaurant, making it extremely difficult to avoid for those in recovery.
Why Quitting on Your Own Is Unsuccessful
Another reason why alcohol relapse rates may be higher than rates for other substances is the belief that alcohol is easy to detox from, causing many alcoholics to do so without professional help from dedicated addiction medicine specialists.
As studies show, this can make it even more difficult to stay clean. One study, published in a journal entitled Addiction, found that short-term relapse rates were lower when subjects received assistance with detox than those who tried to do it on their own.
It can also be dangerous to detox on your own. The process of detoxing from alcohol is very taxing on the body, and the side effects can be severe and potentially fatal when done without proper supervision.
How a Treatment Center Can Support Alcohol Detox and Sobriety
The addiction treatment community as a whole will benefit from the understanding that no matter the quality of care that a given facility can offer patients struggling with alcohol use disorders, relapse is inevitable.
The best way to prepare for the eventuality that a patient will relapse is to do as much as possible in the way of relapse prevention during inpatient care. Here are a few examples:
- Therapy and counseling that addresses triggers. Triggers for relapse can come from all angles, especially for alcoholics. Considering the ever-presence of alcohol in American society, recovering addicts need to be prepared for the temptations outside the treatment environment before they come face to face with them.
- Development of creative outlets and positive coping methods. There will be some potential triggers that aren’t expected. Grief and trauma are two major factors in relapse, so therapy programs that help patients develop positive coping methods and healthy outlets can help with this eventuality.
- Integration with 12-step and support groups. Treatment facilities can only control so much. Giving patients access to lifelong support groups and 12-step groups that connect them to a network provides consistent support, even if they relapse after treatment.
What If I Relapsed After Inpatient Treatment?
Average relapse rates for all substances are between 40-60 percent, which means patients in recovery are about as likely to relapse as they are not to relapse. There are a few publications, including Psychology Today, working to change the perception of relapse within the addiction treatment community and society as a whole, convincing people that relapse doesn’t equate to failure.
Addiction is categorized as a chronic disease, and like all chronic diseases, relapse is inevitable for some patients. If you suffer a relapse, it doesn’t mean that you were cured and your addiction came back. There’s no cure for addiction, just as there’s no cure for asthma or high blood pressure (two chronic illnesses that have higher average relapse rates than addiction).
Recovery Is Complex
What people don’t often realize is that recovery from addiction is not as simple as admitting a problem and getting treatment for it. Recovery is a lifelong battle, and certain factors involved with recovery from alcohol use disorders suggest that it’s even harder to avoid relapse from than other SUDs.
No matter how long you’ve been sober, take your recovery one day at a time. Don’t look at relapse at the end of the road. On your journey to recovery, there will be ups and downs. Even three sustained days of sobriety between relapses is progress when compared to three days of constant drinking.
Take the small victories as they come, lean on your support group for help wherever you can and don’t hesitate to use a recovery facility as an asset in rebounding from alcohol relapse.
To learn more, contact FHE Health (formerly the Florida House Experience) for details and information about the addiction and mental health treatment services we offer. Our trained staff can talk to you about your addiction and how our services and treatment plans can help.