Addiction Relapse Similar to Other Chronic Diseases

Relapse Following Treatment Is Common, Predictable And Preventable

Worried Woman
Brief Relapse After Treatment Is Common. © Getty Images

Relapse following treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is common, predictable and preventable, according to "Relapse & Recovery: Behavioral Strategies for Change," a research report by the Caron Foundation.

"Relapse should not be viewed as a failure; it is part of a learning process that eventually leads to recovery," says Susan Merle Gordon, Ph.D., author of the report.

90% Relapse Briefly

Relapse rates for addictive diseases do not differ significantly from rates for other chronic diseases.

Relapse rates for addictive diseases range from 50 percent for resumption of heavy use to 90 percent for a brief lapse.

The potential for relapse is part of chronic disease. As is the case with chemical addiction, patients with diseases such as diabetes, asthma and hypertension frequently fail to comply with their treatments. Just as people with chronic diseases must adjust their lifestyles and assume responsibility for managing their own care, so do those with addictions to drugs and alcohol.

Women Less Likely to Relapse

Gender is an important factor in relapse. "Women are less likely to relapse than men, in part because they are more likely to seek treatment and engage in group counseling," according to Gordon.

Caron, , one of the nation's oldest and largest addiction treatment centers, separates relapse treatment from primary care, admitting those who have acknowledged their addiction, maintained sobriety for at least six months, and are familiar with the 12-step recovery process.

Treatment includes identifying early warning signs and relapse triggers, and developing strategies to avoid or cope with them.

After-Care Plays Critical Role

Caron experience, confirmed in participation in a national study, is that aftercare plays a critical role in long-term recovery. More than 60 percent of Caron patients who regularly attend some form of aftercare following treatment remained completely abstinent from drug or alcohol use, compared with 40 percent of patients who attended sporadically, and 30 percent who did not attend an aftercare program.

The report includes definitions of relapse, theories of relapse and related treatment models, relapse triggers and prevention strategies and predictors of recovery. The report is available online at or by calling 800 678-2332 Ext. 2469.