The Reasons That People Relapse

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.

After the relapse, take the opportunity to find the right sobriety solution. Pain can often be the best motivator.

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
Stodzy Internet Marketing.

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.

You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram

16 thoughts on “The Reasons That People Relapse

  1. Hi, thank you for sharing. Both of my parents suffer from alcoholism. When you say 5 to 10 years I become hopeful. I struggle keeping my dad sober past 5 months and my mother 5 days. See the difference between my mother and my father is, my mother is in denial and my father is not. My father always says “a leopard doesn’t change his spots,” as an excuse whenever he relapses and my mother thinks an alcoholic wakes up to a beer. In my mothers defense she doesn’t wake up in the mornings drinking, in my defense she is too hungover to even see morning. Despite that, its not always about how much you drink, but how often and why? There is a big difference from casually drinking, socially and using drinking as an outlet.

    it is hard to deal with my mother, because she still cant admit that she needs help. My father knows he needs help and doesn’t stop trying. I applaud him for that. I say things like “I try not to stress them out so they wont drink,” that’s the child in me still blaming myself.

    I guess my question to you would be what do you recommend my next step being? seeing as I feel I have already tried everything else, but remaining hopeful!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I will send again. that is a relief that you stay up late I was unsure about sending it at 2 a.m. I am really looking forward to talking with you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the reasons people drink to excess in the first place is because of something terrible they have done, in their mind, or something terrible done to them. If they hold such things within themselves, cannot find the courage to speak of them in their 5th step, it continues to weigh heavily upon them. With pain comes the desire to drink. I have long believed this to be a prime reason people relapse, the hopeless feeling that the wrong they’ve done is just too awful and too difficult to speak of.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree. I have seen several people determined to hold on to a deep dark secret. They hold on to it so tight, convinced they have to “keep it until the grave”. These same people continually relapse and seem perplexed about why. I just love the phase “you are as sick as your secrets”. It was so true for me and I was very sick.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing. My son just celebrated 90 days recently and is currently in a sober living house. While I am working my own recovery through Nar Anon Family Group I can’t help but be worried about the dreaded relapse.

    I am hopeful and thankful everyday he is sober and trying to have that “adult to adult” relationship.

    Making it past 90 days was certainly a milestone for him. Knowing that there are people in recovery for long periods is encouraging.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. It’s good timing for me to read this. I passed two years six weeks ago and it’s not a broken relationship but a broken tooth that has me walking on thin ice right now. So far I have not abused my prescription (and am thankful to be nearly done with the whole experience!) but I certainly feel that I’m in a dangerous place. I made a big move to be able to complete school and am still settling into a new community combined with massive dental work and the required medications for it. In my opinion all major life transitions are “red zones” and potential reservations. I can’t say I have all the answers but what is working for me right now is lots of text messaging and facebooking with my recovery people and sober friends. I can’t talk much at the moment so being able to type is a godsend. I can’t say I’ve done everything “by the book” but I have managed to hold on and stay clean through divorce, death, kids in surgery, moving 200 miles, going back to university, and now my own medical problems. For me the first thing is to remember every single day how danged lucky I am to be alive to be clean and to thank my higher power for this. I think it’s “life on life’s terms” that ends up getting to relapsers, at least, it once was for me. Life’s terms can be brutal at times and presenting recovery as all rainbows and sunshine can leave people unprepared for this. When I had about 90days this woman in a meeting broke all the cross-talk rules to call me on a reservation and it saved my life later on. I hated her for it and now she’s a dear friend. I kind-of hope I get to a point where it starts to get stale for me. 😉 But that’s just because I’ve had enough excitement to last me life time.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Being just 10 days here at this VA Treatment Program, your post was really needed. Thank you for such a thorough write, and your site looks like I will be checking it ALL out lol.


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