I’d like to start this off with the disclaimer that I am not an expert on relapses or what goes into making one, but rather I am just going to share what I have noticed in my time in sobriety.
Being sober for a little while now I have noticed different patterns in relapses depending on how long the person has been sober. There seems to be certain dropping off points where you see a greater number of people go back out again. They usually occur around 90 days, the first year, 2 years, and then in-between 5 and 10 years. Why exactly people seem to relapse around these time periods I am not sure, but there does seem to be a pattern that emerges. There is something to be said about education helping to prevent a relapse.
People early on in sobriety who relapse usually do so because they either haven’t fully conceded to the fact that they are an alcoholic or addict, or they just have yet to figure out what it is that we are doing in the 12 Step programs. The latter part of this may sound strange but it is something that I have noticed within others and myself the longer that I have stayed sober.
Before I made my last attempt at getting sober I had attended hundreds of 12 Step meetings throughout my life, but even with my attendance at all these meetings I never really got what was going on. I would ask to due to the readings in the beginnings of the meeting thinking that would somehow keep sober and I never really made an attempt at getting a sponsor or working the Steps. These things seemed peripheral to me and so usually after a brief period of time I relapsed.
I have noticed this same pattern in many people in early sobriety since I have been sober. They usually stick around for 60-90 days and then disappear because they may not be ready yet. Often times these people will get into relationships early on, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and they will be more focused on the fellowship then working any of the Steps. This usually leads to them going back out and hopefully in time they come back and try again.
A lot of people seem to relapse around the one-year mark. Either right before or right after. Many of these people seemed to be doing well and were involved, probably had worked their Steps and then they just seem to fall off. This one is particularly baffling because in many ways the worst part was behind. When I talk to these people when they come back they often express how they left something off their 4th Step or how some other snafu lead to their relapse.
Sometimes I notice in people who continuously relapse around the year mark is that they seem to be attempting to relive early sobriety over and over again. Not to psychoanalysis anyone, because I am not qualified to do that, but it does appear to be what is going on. I have seen a lot of people relapse around a year, just as their life is starting to get put back together and they are starting to achieve things. They no longer can go to the beach every day with their friends and the comradery of early sobriety may be gone. At this point, they seem to self-sabotage and wind up back in treatment attempting to do the whole thing over again. For some, this is like a vicious cycle that is hard to break and what’s worse I’m not even sure if they are aware of it.
Around the 2-year mark, I have also noticed that people seem to go back out again. Many of the people that I have seen go back out around this time seem to do so because of relationships. It is so strange how as human beings we can all believe we are so unique but many of us, myself included, follow the same patterns over and over again like clockwork. Many relationships that start in early sobriety usually die out fairly quickly, but some make it, that is until around the 2-year mark. Around this time I noticed that among the people that I got sober with that had started a relationship early on, their relationships started to come to an end, all in quick succession. The majority of the people involved in these relationships went out within the next few months to a year.
Now it would be unfair to say that the relationships caused the relapse but what I noticed is that many of these people by their 2 years were not really involved in the program anymore. Even in the beginning of our sobriety they would attend meetings and they did their Steps, some even sponsored people, but they weren’t really involved. This seems to be the common thread amongst people who relapse after a couple of years. They either begin to distance themselves from the program because they become busy with their lives or they were only involved on a superficial level so once something happened that caused them pain, they resorted back to the only solution they knew that worked, drinking or using.
Between five and ten years is said to be a dangerous time, although one old-timer that I spoke to said that every year is a dangerous time. In particular, though I have noticed that people in between these two-mile markers seem to relapse and you don’t see many 6,7,8,9 years being celebrated often.
The reason for this seems to be because after 5 years many people will have accomplished some major goals in their lives. This may mean that they have graduated from college or are further along in their careers. They may have gotten married and had children, or moved away. While all of these things are amazing, they also require time and effort that pulls people away from meetings and the fellowship. Adding to this is the fact that after 5 or so years it can be difficult to remember what it was like when you first got sober and so if a firm foundation was not built in the beginning, it can be hard to continue. Also, meetings can become stale and so forcing yourself to change things up or continue to go can be difficult. All of these reasons can lead someone with these amounts of time to go back out again even after extended periods of sobriety.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list of the reasons behind why, people relapse, it is however what I have noticed in my time being sober. The usual list of not working your Steps, or getting into relationships, moving back home too soon, or resentments are all important as well, but I felt it would be more interesting to dive a little bit deeper into this and what it means to relapse at different lengths of sobriety. Hopefully, it was helpful.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.