How Many Alcoholics Relapse in their First Year?

How Many Alcoholics Relapse in their First Year?


A reader writes in and asks: “How many alcoholics relapse in their first year?”

Good question.  There is a slight problem with the question though and I will get to that in a minute.  I will start out by saying that most basic estimates put this figure at around 95 percent.  So they would say that about 5 percent of alcoholics stay sober for the first year.  Some say more like 3 percent stay sober and others would say more like 10 percent stay sober.  But the 5 percent figure is the one that I see used the most as a general estimate.  Keep in mind that it is somewhat challenging to get reliable and honest data regarding this from a large pool of alcoholics.

Now the problem that I mention is in the question itself: how many alcoholics will relapse?  Well, what group of alcoholics are we actually looking at here? Are we looking at all of the alcoholics who went to an alcohol treatment center in order to try and get sober?  Are we including alcoholics who try to quit drinking on their own?  Do we add in those who did not go to a rehab center but started attending AA meetings?  Are we just looking at people who attend AA and how many of those people relapse in their first year?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Fancy Mandi

One interesting statistic to consider comes from Alcoholics Anonymous themselves and their census data that they publish.  Apparently there is about an 80 percent drop out rate for the AA program in the first year.  Specifically, AA World Services states that almost 80 percent of all alcoholics who attend their first AA meeting will leave the AA program within the first year and never return.  This is based on a huge amount of data spanning several decades that comes right AA meetings.  Now this does not necessarily mean that 80 percent will relapse in the first year, or even that those 80 percent who left AA for good will relapse.  It just means that the AA program has a drop out rate of almost 80 percent among newcomers.  Food for thought at any rate, and probably a good indicator that anyone who sticks with the program for over a year straight has a better chance at sobriety.

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The interesting statistic, and maybe the one that really matters, is how many alcoholics relapse in their first year who are really serious about getting sober?  Some people argue that none of them relapse because they have truly surrendered and have made the decision to change their life for real this time.  But many have claimed that level of surrender and said that they had truly hit bottom and yet they failed to achieve sobriety.

It is not really fair to discount those people who relapse and just say that they did not really want recovery, however.  We have to measure all of those people who sought help for their alcohol problem, and how many actually stayed sober during the first year.  It is easy to manipulate the statistics if you just discard people who do not fit into your world view.

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