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How common is all relapse?

Relapse is a common experience for those recovering from addiction. Understanding relapse rates can help provide realistic expectations for the recovery process. While there are various statistics on relapse, some key points provide insight into how common relapse is.

What is relapse?

Relapse refers to a return to substance use after a period of abstinence. It is considered part of the disease of addiction. Relapse can occur at various points in recovery:

  • Early recovery (within the first year)
  • After hitting milestone periods of abstinence (30, 60, 90 days, etc.)
  • After many years of sobriety

A relapse is not considered a failure, rather a common event or setback on the road to recovery. It presents an opportunity to identify triggers, high-risk situations, and needed areas of improvement in one’s recovery program.

Relapse statistics

It is difficult to precisely quantify relapse rates due to challenges tracking long-term recovery outcomes. However, various studies provide estimates:

  • About 40-60% of those recovering from addiction relapse within the first year of treatment.
  • Relapse rates are highest in the first 6 months after rehab.
  • Up to 90% of those recovering from addiction will experience at least one relapse.
  • On average it takes 4-5 recovery attempts before achieving long-term sobriety.

While relapse rates are high, they have been steadily improving over the past several decades as treatment methods evolve. More individuals are able to achieve long-term recovery after persisting through periods of relapse.

Relapse rates by substance

Relapse vulnerability can vary by substance. Here are statistics on relapse rates based on specific addictions:

Substance Relapse Rate
Alcohol 50-60% within the first year
Cocaine 70-80% within the first year
Opioids 60-70% within the first year
Marijuana 45-55% within the first year
Tobacco 97% lifetime relapse rate

The highest rates tend to be among those addicted to crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. Tobacco addiction has the highest likelihood of relapse over a lifetime. However, relapse vulnerability depends on many individual factors too.

Factors influencing relapse

While relapse is common, specific risk factors can increase someone’s relapse vulnerability. Factors that should be addressed in recovery include:

  • Cravings – INTENSE urges to use triggered by people, places, things associated with past use.
  • Withdrawal – Physical and emotional discomfort when stopping substance use.
  • Stress – Unmanageable or negative stress can create relapse triggers.
  • Co-occurring disorders – Mental health issues like depression and anxiety increase relapse risk.
  • Relationship problems – Difficulties with family, friends, and social life can lead to relapse.
  • Lack of coping skills – Without healthy coping mechanisms, relapse is more likely during life challenges.

Identifying individual relapse risk factors is key to preventing and managing relapse early in recovery.

Warning signs

Being attuned to relapse warning signs is essential so that they can be addressed before substance use occurs. Some common warning signs include:

  • Romanticizing past drug or alcohol use
  • Isolating from social support and recovery activities
  • Displaying emotion build up like anger, anxiety, boredom
  • Letting discipline around recovery slack
  • Failing to cope well with stressful events
  • Suffering from sleep disturbances or lack of energy
  • Experiencing intense cravings or urges to use

The earlier lapses in sobriety are caught, the better the chances of preventing them from escalating to full relapse. People in recovery should stay vigilant for red flags and have a relapse prevention plan in place.

Persistence pays off

While relapse rates may seem high, this reflects the chronic nature of addiction – it is a disease people can fully recover from, but often not the first time they try. With effective treatment, social support, and self-management, many are able to achieve years of recovery after periods of relapse.

The success rates for long-term sobriety improve significantly for those who persist through multiple recovery attempts. Those who persevere through relapse, learn from mistakes, and keep trying new recovery strategies eventually enjoy successful long-term recovery. Patience, hard work, and time pay off.

Managing relapse

For those who do relapse, it’s important to get back on track to recovery safely. Here are some tips for managing relapse:

  • Contact your sponsor, counselor, or recovery network for help. Don’t isolate.
  • Return to rehab if relapse becomes ongoing use.
  • Attend recovery meetings and get extra peer support.
  • Identify your relapse triggers and high-risk situations.
  • Reflect on skills you need to further build.
  • Make lifestyle changes needed to shore up recovery.
  • Learn positive coping strategies for cravings and emotions.
  • Forgive yourself and focus energy on getting back on track.

Relapse can present a critical turning point toward deeper, longer recovery when managed effectively. Many addiction experts and people in recovery view it as a learning opportunity.


Relapse is very common on the path to addiction recovery with statistics showing 40-60% will relapse in the first year and up to 90% experiencing at least one relapse. However, relapse rates have been improving with advancements in treatment. While disheartening, relapse should not be seen as failure but an experience to learn from. Having realistic expectations about the likelihood of relapse can help those in recovery persist through difficult times. With thorough relapse prevention education, strong social support, and self-care skills, long term sobriety is achievable for most who keep trying.