What is Chronic Relapse and How Do I Stop Relapsing?

chronic relapse

If you have overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you deserve to be proud of yourself, but you should know that recovery isn’t linear and it never truly stops. In order to stay sober, you have to make healthy choices on a daily basis and continue treating your mental health. 

Drug and alcohol relapse is extremely common among people struggling with addiction. In fact, relapse is so common that addiction is sometimes conceptualized as a “chronic relapsing brain disorder.” Studies show that between 40-60% of people who seek treatment for addiction relapse at some point in their recovery.[1]

Some people relapse once, learn from their relapse, and get right back to recovery. Others struggle with a couple of relapses before they learn how to effectively manage their addiction. Unfortunately, a small group of people experiences repeated relapses that keep happening over an extended period of time. This is known as chronic relapse.

What is Chronic Relapse?

Relapse refers to returning to drug and alcohol use after a period of sobriety. Chronic relapse, however, is a non-medical term that is sometimes used to describe people who relapse over and over again and seem unable to achieve sobriety. Someone who struggles with chronic relapse may:

  • Feel like staying sober is a constant struggle 
  • Struggle with hopelessness or low self-esteem
  • Consider themselves a “treatment pro” because they have gone to rehab several times
  • Go to rehab, appear successful, but relapse shortly after rehab ends
  • Be dishonest with themselves, their therapists, and loved ones
  • Have family members who are exhausted from helping and worrying

Family members may wonder, “why can’t they just stop?” or “they have so much potential if they would just sober up, so why don’t they?”

Sadly, addiction is difficult to understand unless you are experiencing it yourself. But in most cases, people are relapsing because they have failed to address the root cause of their addiction and find an honest passion for life.

What Causes Chronic Relapse?

Relapsing multiple times can be dangerous because addiction is a progressive disease. Each time a person relapses, they return to old dangerous behaviors, but often adopt new, more risky behaviors, as well.

Understanding what causes relapse and identifying the root cause of your substance abuse can help you stop relapsing. Common causes of relapse include:[2]

  • Failure to follow through with treatment
  • Leaving rehab too early
  • Untreated mental health issues (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc)
  • Undiagnosed mental illnesses
  • Buried emotions
  • Unresolved trauma
  • Inability to cope with triggers, urges, and cravings

Treatment and aftercare that comprehensively address the causes of relapse can help prevent drug and alcohol relapse from happening.

How to Stop Relapsing

Relapse is not a sign of failure–no matter how many times you relapse. What is important is that you learn from your relapses, identify what went wrong, what you can do right next time, and that you don’t give up. 

Seek Individualized Treatment

A key aspect of effective treatment is individualized care. Your treatment plan should be designed to meet your needs, whatever those needs may be. Going back to rehab after a relapse will help you identify the root cause of your substance abuse, develop healthy coping skills, and learn what you need to do to stay sober.

Stay in a Sober Living Home After Rehab

Inadequate housing after treatment is a major cause of relapse.[3] If you are living in a home where other people are using substances, are struggling with homelessness, or haven’t been successful living on your own after rehab, you may benefit from staying in a sober living home. Sober living homes conduct random drug tests, enforce structure and accountability, and provide safe, sober, and supportive housing.

Join a Support Group or 12-Step Fellowship

Support groups or 12-Step fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are designed to promote community and fellowship among people recovering from addiction. Active participation in one of these support groups can significantly reduce your risk of relapse.

Practice Self-Care

Proper self-care is crucial for mental health and addiction recovery. Be sure to:

  • Get plenty of quality sleep
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Get some exercise every day
  • Call members of your support group
  • Do something you enjoy each day

Self-care will improve your mental health by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can reduce your risk for relapse and improve your quality of life.

Stick to Your Aftercare Program

Rehab aftercare exists to guide you through early recovery and reduce relapse risk, so if you are ignoring the importance of aftercare, you are selling yourself short on recovery. Aftercare can help you adjust to life in sobriety, make healthy decisions, cope with triggers and cravings, and prevent relapse. It can help reinforce the things you learned in rehab to help you stay sober long-term.

Find Help for Chronic Relapse Today

Chronic relapse is a painful, devastating experience to go through, but there is effective treatment available. At Moving Mountains Recovery, our emotionally-focused approach helps clients dive deep into the root cause of their addiction so they can truly achieve healing. 

Don’t wait any longer to get the treatment you deserve. Call now to speak with an admissions counselor about your treatment options.


  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5688890/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057870/

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