Chance of Relapse After Alcohol Rehab

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Relapse after alcohol rehab is a common health problem during the recovery from alcohol.

A 2021 article reviewed by Andrew Proulx, MD, about Alcohol and Substance Abuse, shows that the highest chance of relapse after alcohol rehab is in the first year30% of recovering alcoholics relapse in the substance addiction recovery process [1].  

The reasons for the high rate of alcohol relapse during the first year after alcohol rehab are [1] 


  1. Failure to seek additional support after alcohol rehab. 
  2. Overconfidence.  
  3. Stress  
  4. Denial  
  5. Depression  

According to (study or reference here) Different types of relapses exist, including:  

  1. Short-term slips: A single instance of drinking after maintained sobriety.  
  2. Lapses: An instance where the alcoholic has had several drinks but hasn’t resumed previous levels of drinking.  
  3. Long-term relapses: When you return to the habit of alcohol and leading Substance abuse after rehab.  

Even the most dedicated recovering alcoholic can experience slips and relapses at some point in the recovery process.  

Alcoholic relapse occurs in three stages: [12] 

Stage 1: Emotional Relapse  

The person is not thinking about alcohol. But their thought patterns and actions set them up for failure.  

Stage 2: Mental relapse  

A person with this relapse is facing an internal struggle. Part of them wants to remain abstinent, but the other part wants to drink.  

Stage 3: Physical relapse  

This is a person who resumes the previous habit of drinking regularly.  

Contrary to popular perception, relapse is a sporadic occurrence that occurs in three stages. Being aware of these stages can help prevent alcohol relapse from occurring.

After completing alcohol addiction treatment, one of the most significant concerns of most alcohol addicts is the chance of facing alcohol relapse. In addition to being common, alcohol abuse and drug addiction relapse is expected for people attempting to overcome alcohol and drug addiction.

Before getting long-term recovery, many people undergo countless counts of relapses.

At a glance, the primary manifestation of relapse is when a recovering alcohol user returns to their previous drug use addiction.

As an event that begins slowly then turns to become an increasingly worse experience, it is crucial to understand the stages of alcohol relapse and how to prevent them.

Emotional relapse

Emotional relapse preliminary of the three stages of relapse. During this phase, the recovering drug user is not actively thinking about using drugs or alcohol, but their emotions and habits may be setting them up to the road of alcohol relapse.

Common warning signs include bottling up emotions, failing to attend recovery group meetings, isolating yourself from sober friends and family members.

Emotional relapse also comes with poor eating habits and a transition from active engagement in social support groups to sharing nothing.

Focusing on other people’s problems and not dealing with your own creates intolerance, defensiveness, low mood swings and poor self-care emotional and physical engagement that creates a situation you don’t want to ask for help.

Mental relapse

When you fail to address symptoms of emotional relapse, there is a high risk of transitioning to the second stage of relapse.

Best described as a “battle” going on inside the mind of the recovering addict, mental relapse sort of prepares the person for physical relapse.

Some part of the mind wants to use alcohol, while the other tries to resist the temptation. As substance abusers get deeper into relapse and mental health issues, their ability to make rational decisions diminishes, and the longing for escape grows.

It is crucial to remember that occasional thoughts that come in this stage differ from actually wanting to use the drug and alcohol.

At a glance, signs of mental relapse include cravings of physical and psychological urges to use drugs and alcohol, thinking about past occurrences that led you to drink.

It also leads to bargaining – a situation where an alcohol addict thinks it would be acceptable to use alcohol occasionally, probably on holidays or when parting with close friends.

Another sign of relapse is when individuals think they can relapse in a healthy way, probably once or twice a year.

When you begin fantasizing about using alcohol or thinking of schemes of reverting to your old habit without being judged, it could be a sign of relapse.

Physical relapse

It doesn’t take long to lead down the physical path of drug and alcohol relapse.

This includes physical acts of using drugs and alcohol. Often, the key is to get yourself out of the vicious cycle of drug and gambling addiction is to seek help from treatment providers immediately.

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How to prevent relapse after alcohol

Early recovery and relapse mitigation

Early relapse prevention plan at this stage means you’re in the emotional stage and are working to prevent plunging into alcohol use.

Remember, you’re isolating yourself and need to remind yourself that asking for help isn’t a shame.

The most crucial thing about further relapse prevention is taking better care of yourself. Remember that you use drugs to escape, and create an emotional state that creates a rewarding feeling.

After a moment of positive emotions about yourself, alcohol creates a mental and emotionally draining experience you wouldn’t want to go through.

If you don’t take care of yourself by having sufficient sleep and food, your exhaustion will make you want to escape. At the same time, allowing resentment and fears to build up will create an awful feeling within yourself.

Emotional relapse

Emotional relapse often begins with neglecting self-care.

To attain full recovery, begin by examining how well you’ve been managing your emotional well-being.

Ensure you get eight hours of sleep daily and that you’re going to bed around the same time. At the same time, eat at least three balanced meals a day in addition to drinking enough water.

Another vital recovery resource you should be attending is continued recovery groups that ensure you spend sufficient time with your peers.

The way you speak to others reflects how kind you are to yourself and shows your mood, self-esteem, motivation and interaction with others.

While addressing emotional relapse might be efficacious through straightforward, actionable steps, the effects of neglecting these guidelines might push you to further stressful occurrences.

Mental urges

When you fantasize about using alcohol, the chances are that you’ll be able to control your urges at that time.

As it grows, however, having one drink will make you start drinking. One drink usually leads to more, and you’ll wake up feeling awful with withdrawal symptoms, and a longing to have more drinks.

When you play the tape through this vicious cycle, the cycle of using alcohol might not be so appealing. Reminding yourself of the adverse effects you’ve already gone through along with potential effects will control your alcohol use.

Ideally, call someone and tell them you have urges to take alcohol. One magic of sharing what you’re feeling is that it will disappear in a couple of moments.

Besides, make relaxation is a crucial part of future relapse prevention. When you’re tense and tend to make the same mistakes repeatedly, relaxing tends to change those feelings.

What to do in case of relapse

The occurrence of relapse doesn’t mean you’ve failed in your alcohol recovery journey.

Rather than continuing to stay in your state, talk to a sober friend and make a positive relapse prevention plan.

Instead of suppressing related emotions, allow you to feel complex feelings of guilt, shame and frustrations, then plan to talk to someone.

Even though the last thing you would want to do is spend time with friends, spending time alone will trigger feelings of isolation, leading to another relapse.

Though a relapse might be awful, there is always a way to sustained sobriety.

Relapse Rate After Alcohol Rehab  

The rate of relapse is one way to measure of success or failure of substance abusers to relapse after rehab

The National Institute on Drug and Substance Abuse view relapse as a normal part of the recovery process. [10] 

Different surveys report differing rates of alcoholic relapse.  

A survey on alcohol addiction relapse rates by The Recovery Village, reviewed by Stacey Henson, LCSW, ACSW [2]  showed that: 

  • 21.4% of recovering alcoholics relapsed in the second year of recovery.  
  • 9.6% relapsed in the third to fifth year. 
  • 7.2% relapsed after five years in recovery.  
  • Those who have been sober for 2 years have a rate of 40%.  
  • More than 70% of alcoholics are likely to relapse at some point.  

A 2006 study about rates and predictors of relapse in NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) published by Rudolf & Bernice Moos [3showed that chance of relapse varied by 20% to 50%, depending on the severity of the addiction.  

A person who manages to stay sober for five years has a less than 15% chance of a relapse.[3] 

Also, 80% of people will relapse before they recover from alcohol use disorder and withdrawal symptoms. [4] 

A study by Waltzer & Dearing published on Science Direct [9on gender differences in relapse rates, shows that rates were similar across gender. 

Gender, however, did moderate the association between marriage and relapse rate[9]  

Whereas marriage lowered the risk factors of relapse among men, it heightened the risk for women. For women, marriage and marital stress were a risk factor for alcoholic relapse.  

What Are the Odds of Getting Sober?  

Getting and staying sober depends on your level of commitment to long-term sobriety.  

People who admit to alcohol rehab treatment have a higher chance of getting sober than people who try to detox from alcohol at home 

The 2006 study about rates and predictors of relapse by Rudolf and Bernice Moos [3showed that those who did not receive addiction treatment were less likely to remain sober within three years.   

The difference between people who received no alcohol treatment versus those who received leading substance abuse treatment for alcohol abuse had to do with poor coping skills [3].

Aftercare treatment facilities nationwide such as AA impart coping skills and provide a support system that increases the odds of getting sober [3].  

Types of alcohol and behavioral treatment facilities offering aftercare support system are: 

  • Sober living homes  
  • Facility-based treatment program 
  • Private addiction counselling 
  • Therapy and counselling sessions 

A study by Public Health England (PHE)  between April 2017 and March 2018 [5shows that 4 out of 5 alcohol-dependent adults are not getting any professional treatment for alcohol addiction 

Adults seeking treatment for alcohol addiction have declined since 2013, making the risk of alcoholic relapse and alcohol-related problems high [5].  

Alcohol addiction recovery rates vary depending on the treatment facility. 

  • Private clinics across the UK are the best performing with 60% to 80% success rate. [6] 
  • The least performing treatment providers struggled to attain a 20% success rate. 
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) reports a 50% success rate. [7] 

There have been instances where people were sober for two decades and relapsed. [8] 

There’s insufficient clinical research data on whether people who get sober actually stay sober. Or if anyone is ever free of addiction or if there’s always a risk of relapse.  

The longer you stay sober, the higher your chances of staying sober 

It’s a myth to believe that people who seek help in treatment programs are ‘cured’ from addiction. 

The reality is that alcohol use disorder treatment involves consistent aftercare follow up, personalised counselling, and coaching with a sponsor. 

Integrating medical detox, therapeutic care, and holistic alcoholism treatment methods has been shown to have a higher success rate in treating alcohol use disorder 

Addiction treatment statistics

Alcohol abuse is the fourth most common cause of preventable death, and only 1 in 7 people worldwide suffering from drug and alcohol use disorder receive treatment [9] [10]. 

Addiction treatment statistics show that, on average, one in four individuals stay sober within the first year after treatment. At the same time, the remainder of them maintained sobriety in three days out of four, reducing their alcohol intake by 87% [11]. 

According to one study, those who attended 12-step gatherings increased their sobriety from 20% to 80% after a year, while 19% stopped drinking altogether. [12]

What is the success rate for alcohol rehab?

The level of care provided to an inpatient during and after the official rehab period determines the success of an alcohol rehab program. As a result, successful alcohol addiction treatment varies from person to person.

Although there is no universally accepted figure for "what is the success rate for alcohol rehab", one study found that after 16 years, 67 per cent of people who attended 27 weeks of AA remained sober, compared to only 34% of those who did not participate in AA.[13]

People who enter a long-term rehab programme and are committed to treatment are less likely to experience relapse.

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Article Sources:

1. Facts and Statistics about Alcohol Abuse in the United States; By The Recovery Village, Editor Melissa Carmona, Medically Reviewed By Andrew Proulx, MD, Updated on 04/27/21
https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/alcohol-abuse/alcohol-facts-statistics/


2. Alcohol Use Survey Reveals Risks Before, During and After an Addiction; By The Recovery Village, Editor Melissa Carmona, Medically Reviewed By Stacey Henson, LCSW, ACSW, Updated on 07/02/21
https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/alcohol-abuse/survey-reveals-risks-before-during-after-addiction/



3. Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders; Rudolf H. Moos, Bernice S. Moos; Published in final edited form as: Addiction. 2006 Feb; 101(2): 212–222. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2006.01310.x
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1976118/


4. 5 Alcohol Addiction Statistics to Give You Hope; Written By: Sprout Editorial Team
https://www.sprouthealthgroup.com/disorders/5-alcohol-addiction-statistics/


5. What we’ve learned from the latest alcohol and drug treatment statistics. By Rosanna O’Connor, Posted on:1 November 2018 -
https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2018/11/01/what-weve-learned-from-the-latest-alcohol-and-drug-treatment-statistics/


6. The role of residential rehab in an integrated treatment system. By Paul Hayes, NTA Chief Executive
https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20170807160631/http:/www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/roleofresi-rehab.pdf


7. Alcoholics Anonymous 2014 Membership Survey
https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-48_membershipsurvey.pdf


8. How Often Do Long-Term Sober Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse? By Omar Manejwala M.D. February 13, 2014, Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/craving/201402/how-often-do-long-term-sober-alcoholics-and-addicts-relapse


9. Gender differences in alcohol and substance use relapse. Clinical Psychology Review 26 (2006) 128 – 148. By Kimberly S. Walitzer *, Ronda L. Dearing
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1065.2974&rep=rep1&type=pdf


10. NIDA. Treatment and Recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery. July 10, 2020 Accessed July 15, 2021.


12. Melemis SM. Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale J Biol Med. 2015;88(3):325-332. Published 2015 Sep 3.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/

Last Updated: September 3, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.