At the end of an addiction treatment program, most people probably aren’t thinking about going back to rehab. But the reality is that 18-26% of people who seek treatment for a substance use disorder will eventually readmit to rehab.
Although this statement may feel discouraging, this perspective is a tool that can help you control your addictive patterns. Continued awareness of the psychological and physiological effects of addiction will help alert you when it’s time to seek support and can prevent you from returning to past harmful behaviors.
One of the key lessons of recovery is that addiction is a lifelong journey. Personal growth, healing, and mindful intention can keep your drug or alcohol misuse at bay, but addiction will remain a present force in your life. That’s why it’s so important to continue to work at your recovery, take each day at a time, and develop recovery thinking and behaviors beyond treatment.
Readmission is not a regression in progress, and going back to rehab does not mean that you failed. Recovery is not a linear path: each day brings new obstacles that require unique solutions. Returning to a treatment program is a courageous choice that allows you to have a new experience with a solid foundation. You can build on the skills you’ve learned, deepen your self-awareness, learn new techniques to help you cope, relax, recharge, and reconnect to your recovery.
Relapse Is Normal
Whether you’re struggling to avoid relapse or seeking readmission because alcohol or substance use has crept back into your life, we want you to know: relapse is normal. To be clear, we’re not encouraging relapse, but we want to acknowledge that relapse is not the end of recovery and that there is hope for sustained sobriety.
Addiction is more like a chronic illness than a curable malady, and “flare-ups” can appear without warning throughout your life. In fact, relapse rates for addiction resemble those of diabetes, hypertension, and asthma¹.
Why Do People Relapse?
Many factors contribute to relapse, including:
- Changes in routine
- Personal emergencies
- Life hardships
- Bodily changes such as aging
- Inadequate support systems
- Underdeveloped life skills
People relapse after treatment for a variety of reasons. They might have trouble going back to the environment where they experienced active addiction. Maybe they made progress in treatment and got to the root of their addiction, but they need more support developing life skills consistent with life in recovery. If someone had legal issues due to addiction, they might struggle to support themselves or create new recovery-focused habits.
Sometimes, people are so used to life in addiction that they don’t realize that they unconsciously fall back into the same patterns. They might be highly functional with their job or within their family, and the people around them might not notice the signs and symptoms. They might face unexpected stressors that they don’t know how to manage, even with the techniques they practiced in treatment.
While you can anticipate some life changes after treatment, it’s hard to prepare for the unexpected. Think about life before 2020: would you have predicted that you would experience a pandemic firsthand? We are constantly facing new stressors and transitions as we move through life, and sometimes, the easiest thing is to go back to what is known: substance use.
Unpacking the Stigma of Relapse
Relapse is never advised, but you can learn important things about yourself when it happens. Relapse can be an opportunity for you to:
- Identify personal triggers
- Gain insight into the root causes of your addiction
- Create new boundaries for your success
- Eliminate the expectation of being “perfect”
Reducing relapse to a moral failure does a disservice to yourself and your recovery community. Relapse can be complex, and it is imperative to view your first treatment cycle as the beginning of your journey with addiction. Every treatment cycle after that is a continuation toward recovery.
The Three Stages of Relapse
Recovery from addiction generally requires continuous evaluation and appropriate treatment modifications. While many factors that contribute to relapse may be outside of your control, there are still warning signs that make the threat of relapse easier to recognize. According to American Addiction Centers, the steps leading to relapse occur in three stages².
The Emotional Stage of Relapse
The emotional stage of relapse is less conscious and more behavioral. You might experience denial or bottle up your emotions, and you might struggle with eating or sleeping too much or too little. As a result of feeling low, you may isolate, either physically or by not being present or connected with the recovery community.
Life feels challenging with little to no reward in this stage. You may not be thinking about using at this point; instead, you are just experiencing a phase of discontentment. Self-care feels like a chore, and as a result, your emotional, psychological, and physical health might suffer. Without intervention, the emotional stage can quickly progress into the mental stage.
The Mental Stage of Relapse
Mental relapse is one of the first red flags that you need to return to treatment or seek out additional support. You may feel pulled in two directions in this stage: you could be thinking about using while also reminding yourself why sobriety is important to you. You may also find yourself romanticizing and reminiscing positively on your days of using or justify using again.
Here are some additional signs of mental relapse, also known as relapse behaviors:
- Cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Thinking about people, places, and things associated with past use
- Minimizing consequences or glamorizing past use
- Bargaining, lying, or thinking of schemes to better control using
- Looking for relapse opportunities or planning a relapse
While returning to alcohol or substance misuse usually happens in the physical stage of relapse, mental relapse is a huge warning sign that you should take seriously. It can be extraordinarily challenging to stop thoughts and desires about using without external support.
The symptoms above are not a failure, and you shouldn’t try to handle them on your own. A patient in remission from cancer would continue to get regular screenings and check on their progress. The same should be true for recovery; when you continue to screen for relapse thinking and behaviors, you have a greater chance of sustained “remission.”
The Physical Stage of Relapse
After disregarding emotional and mental relapse symptoms, physical relapse becomes likely. This is when alcohol or substance use happens. Usually, physical relapse occurs in a window of opportunity for drug or alcohol use².
The average person might think that preventing relapse is as simple as saying “no.” The reality is that this final choice is almost impossible to stop; there are many twists and turns that lead up to the final opportunity to use again, and the momentum can be completely overwhelming.
The physical stage of relapse can lead to feelings such as disappointment or hopelessness that fuel your addiction, so immediate care and support are vital tools in halting a relapse before it spirals into full-blown addiction.
Again, if we look at addiction as a chronic illness, the path forward becomes clearer: if someone in remission from cancer discovered a suspicious bump, they’d call their doctor. If you relapse, you can seek the professional support you need to manage your condition before it escalates into something even more life-threatening.
Why Do People Return to Rehab?
Studies show that more than 85% of people working towards sobriety will relapse at some point, with two-thirds of those occurring in the early weeks and months after choosing sobriety³. Although this may be an alarming statistic, it can serve as a reminder that relapse is a normal part of the recovery process.
The ultimate goal in recovery is not to cure addiction but to find strategies that help manage addiction, reduce harm, and promote a path toward healing. Returning to treatment can help you reestablish your systems of support. Readmission is the best option for someone in the pre-physical stages of relapse, and returning to rehab before or after a relapse is the safest, most responsible action you can take for yourself.
A relapse does not indicate personal failure or that your initial treatment cycle and support channels did not work. Remember, recovery is a journey, and there’s always something new to learn in treatment. Picking up where you left off after a relapse is an empowering step in the right direction.
Building Recovery Capital
There is more to recovery than clinical interventions alone. One of the ways we help you maintain sobriety is by building recovery capital, a term coined by Robert Granfield and William Cloud. In simple terms, recovery capital is “the total resources that a person has available to find and maintain their recovery.” ⁴
There are four types of recovery capital that can be influenced by addiction professionals⁵:
- Personal recovery capital
- Social recovery capital
- Community recovery capital
- Cultural recovery capital
Building recovery capital requires you to analyze the different areas of your life to identify how they can be modified to support the best version of yourself. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building recovery capital. In treatment at All Points North Lodge, our clinicians will work with you and use these categories to customize a support plan rooted in recovery capital.
Should You Return to Rehab?
It is normal and necessary to seek medical interventions to treat conditions that negatively affect your quality of life. In this regard, addressing addiction is no different from addressing diabetes, a broken hip, or a traumatic brain injury.
People utilize rehabilitation services to improve a variety of conditions. Rather than view your choice to return to rehab with contempt, consider this: overcoming the stigmatized shame to seek help only highlights your courage and resilience. Your future self will likely reflect on your ability to move through these pivotal moments of personal struggle with self-respect and compassion.
If you are questioning whether or not you should return to rehab, the answer is probably yes.
Find Treatment That Works
No matter the amount of time since your last treatment cycle, All Points North is here to help you build the foundational skills and find the missing pieces to achieve your best outcomes. Whether you’re considering returning to the Lodge or going elsewhere, we want to find the treatment that works best for you. We are happy to discuss our in-house treatment options or coordinate a referral. We want to help you find your way forward, whatever that looks like, wherever that is, so that you can feel confident navigating recovery with support.
If you’re seeking admission to a treatment center or considering treatment for the first time, we’re here to help. Contact one of our caring addiction experts now at (855) 510 4585 or start a to get the support you need.
- NIDA. “How effective is drug addiction treatment?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 3 Jun. 2020, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment Accessed 24 Mar. 2022.
- Melemis, Steven M. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine vol. 88,3 325-32. 3 Sep. 2015
- Sinha, Rajita. “New findings on biological factors predicting addiction relapse vulnerability.” Current Psychiatry Reports vol. 13,5 (2011): 398-405. doi:10.1007/s11920-011-0224-0
- Pennelle, Olivia. “Recovery Capital: Its Role in Sustaining Recovery.” Faces & Voices of Recovery, 8 Oct. 2019, https://facesandvoicesofrecovery.org/blog/2019/10/08/recovery-capital-its-role-in-sustaining-recovery/.
- White, W. & Cloud, W. (2008). Recovery capital: A primer for addictions professionals. Counselor, 9(5), 22-27.