How to Get Over those Dismal Relapse Rates

How to Get Over those Dismal Relapse Rates


The relapse rates for recovery from drug and alcohol addiction are depressing. How can you get over them and focus on being positive?

Forget about the Numbers

Have you ever heard people quote statistics regarding sobriety and recovery and relapse rates? They are absolutely terrible. For example: “less than 5 percent of people in recovery will stay clean and sober for 1 year,” or “less than 1 percent of recovering addicts will stay clean and sober for 5 years.” Sometimes you will hear figures that differ from these a bit, because it is very difficult to obtain accurate data. But regardless of these small discrepancies, the overall statistics that you hear about paint a very bleak picture of recovery. Regardless of whose stats you believe, it all adds up to the same thing: very few people manage to stay clean and sober.

When I was first getting clean and sober, I had a really hard time dealing with these statistics. My experience in the past regarding statistics and data has led me to put a lot of faith in numbers. So when I heard that the odds were stacked so heavily against me in recovery, I found it to be quite depressing. I asked my sponsor and other recovering addicts: why even try to stay clean, if the odds are so crummy? These people tried to assure me that it was still worth trying, and that many people do achieve long periods of meaningful sobriety. But I was never really satisfied with these answers. Even though they were reassuring answers, they didn’t help to explain how the statistics could be so lousy. So I wanted to figure out the dismal recovery statistics and how I could manage to stay clean in spite of the overwhelming odds against me. In addition, I determined that if 95 percent of people relapse in the first year, then there must be a common thread among their experiences, and surely I can learn something from that and avoid a similar fate.

Those dismal recovery statistics first started getting me down almost 7 years ago, yet I have been clean and sober ever since then. Through it all I have lived in recovery and watched and learned from others…both from people’s success in recovery as well as those who failed. And what have I learned? Well, the statistics all are all true, probably, but not necessarily in the way that you think.

Here are 3 reasons why those miserable relapse rates don’t really apply to you:

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1) You are self motivated – a lot of those terrible relapse rates are derived from a large pool of people, many of which are not really interested in recovery for their own self. There are lots of people in “recovery” who are there for the judge, or the courts, or because of an angry spouse. They aren’t really there to recover for themselves (yet), so they essentially have a zero chance of maintaining any kind of long term sobriety. Unfortunately, these people get lumped in with the rest of us and make the relapse rates look that much worse.

2) We tend to put too much faith in numbers
– We get so much information thrown at us these days. Newspapers are filled with statistics and survey results and percentages about all sorts of different topics. Sometimes we just take for granted that everything is accurate and has been thoroughly fact-checked. Of course, even when the numbers are accurate, they can still misleading, which brings us to our next point…

3) Statistics can be misleading – As the saying goes, “There are lies, there are damn lies, and there are statistics.” Because of the reasons mentioned above, the statistics regarding relapse rates are particularly misleading. There can be 20 people in your AA meeting, and someone might say something like “statistically, only 1 of us will still be sober in 5 years.” This is probably true if you just take 20 people who quit drinking today and look at where they are at in 5 years. But that statistic is based on everyone who quits drinking–many of whom won’t even attend AA or seek any help at all. Even if the statistic is quoting relapse rates in AA, remember that many people are basically going to AA at the whim of the courts, and thus don’t really want to be there. So remember that these statistics are made up of a very large and diverse group of people.

So if you happen to hear someone quoting the dismal relapse rates of recovering addicts and alcoholics, just nod your head and agree. Technically, they are right, and there is little point in arguing. Just know that if you are self-motivated and truly want recovery for yourself, then those statistics simply do not apply to you. Consider yourself one of the “chosen” ones!

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