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Why Relapse is Part of Recovery

A woman rides a mountain back in the hills as the sun sets.
Life is a ride full of ups and downs—and it’s no different when you’re working on your recovery from addiction.


Imagine this scenario: John has heart disease. His doctor puts him on medication and also directs him to exercise more and eat better.

For months, John does a great job. He walks three miles a day, eats a ton of veggies and lean protein and even drops five pounds.

Then, the holidays hit. John eats nine bacon-wrapped dates at his office party, then six Christmas cookies. He skips his walk the next day and takes a nap instead. That night, he eats double cheeseburger, fries and—get this—a chocolate milkshake. Then he has a bowl of chips.

Well that’s it. There is no hope for John. He will never be healthy. He is doomed.

Pretty ridiculous, right? But that’s how so many of us think of people battling addiction who relapse. The reality is that addiction is a disease that needs to be managed — just like heart disease or diabetes.

In fact, here’s what the National Institute on Drug Abuse has to say on the matter:

The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse at some point is not only possible, but likely. Relapse rates for people with addiction and other substance use disorders are similar to relapse rates for other well-understood chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug use indicates that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried.

Does everyone relapse? Of course not. For every John out there, there’s a Steven who meticulously weighs every ounce of food he eats and never misses a workout — each and every single day without fail for the rest of his life.

There are, however, things you can do to help your recovery. Research shows that 90-day rehab programs are best. One reason why is because that’s when relapse is most likely. Another reason is that drugs and alcohol change how your brain is wired and it takes time to reverse that. Lastly, many people battling addiction are also struggling with a co-occurring condition such as anxiety or depression, which also take time to treat.

But let’s get back to John, the fictional star of this story. After his splurge, he talks things over with his wife and decides to join a gym. They also agree that they will avoid going to restaurants for a while — and definitely stay away from milkshakes.

It’s not easy for John, but let’s get real. We all struggle with something. Life is full of ups and downs, challenges and rewards.

But John is up for the ride.

Are you?

Alcohol and Drug Addiction Rehab in Denver

The Raleigh House is a residential treatment center located in Denver that believes addiction isn’t just a physical problem. Our master’s level trained therapists get to the root cause of addiction and will help you develop a strategy to manage and enjoy life without drugs or alcohol. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about our 90-day drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs.

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