Learn / Breaking the Cycle of Chronic Relapse

Breaking the Cycle of Chronic Relapse

Sarah Shawaker
 February 15th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

When you start addiction recovery, sobriety might be your primary goal. But getting there isn’t easy—and staying sober can be even harder. It’s common for people to relapse after residential rehab. And if that happens more than once, you might need treatment for chronic relapse.

What Is Chronic Relapse?

According to the team at Phoenix Rising Recovery, “the overall relapse rate for substance use disorders is between 40% to 60%.”1 And relapse rates for addiction2 and other chronic medical illnesses are actually very similar. Many experts believe this is a normal part of recovery.

Relapse means different things to different people. For example, a person in treatment for cocaine addiction might continue to drink socially. Or, they might view any substance use—including the use of prescribed medication—as a form of relapse. Whatever your recovery goals are, chronic relapse interrupts your progress over and over again.

This isn’t a moral failing. Addiction and relapse have direct impacts on your brain chemistry. And data suggests that the more you relapse, the more vulnerable you are to relapsing again.3 Once you get into this cycle, you’ll likely need expert help to get out of it.

What Causes Repeated Relapse

If you just relapse once, it might be easy to pinpoint the trigger. Maybe you went out with an old drinking buddy, or you got some bad news. And once you understand what happened, you can start working through it.

Chronic relapse is more complex. If you’re stuck in a loop of using drugs, getting sober, and using drugs again, there are probably bigger issues at hand. And identifying those issues can be the first step toward healing. Everyone’s journey is different, but chronic relapse has a few common causes:

These are just a few potential reasons for chronic relapse. But whatever the cause, the solution is clear. If you’re relapsing repeatedly, you probably need to develop new coping skills. That could mean medical treatment, a new type of talk therapy, or another stay in residential rehab. The important thing is to find the approach that works for you.

Plan Your Recovery from Chronic Relapse

Bill, a former Recovery Centers of America patient, “went to a couple different rehabs and realized I was caught up in a cycle that I knew I couldn’t get out of on my own power.” But during his last stay in rehab, something changed. “This time around I was honest, open-minded, and actually let myself heal,” he says. Now sober for many years, Bill finally broke the cycle of chronic relapse.

When you first start rehab, you’re not just healing—you’re also learning how to heal. And you might not learn everything right away. Some people try many different kinds of treatment before they find the right approach.

Trauma-Informed Care

Without proper care, trauma makes chronic relapse more likely.7 And childhood trauma, in particular, is a predictor of this condition. If you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD), or other trauma symptoms, you might benefit from trauma-informed care.

This is a general philosophy, rather than a specific type of therapy. Trauma-informed rehabs recognize the impact your history has on recovery. And this approach does more than treat your symptoms. It also empowers you to heal the root cause of your addiction.

Long-Term Residential Rehab

If you haven’t reached your goals by using short-term interventions, long-term residential treatment might be your key to success. While you’re there, you’ll learn to identify the early warning signs of relapse. And then you’ll have more time to solidify your new coping skills.

Chronic relapse treatment almost always includes relapse prevention.8 That usually involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness techniques. These methods address both relapse itself and any underlying mental health issues. Most programs also help you set up continuing care, which will help you transition out of residential rehab.

Sober Living

Sober living environments offer a supportive, structured place for you to call home. You can stay in some sober houses for months or years. You’ll likely have house chores, attend support groups or 12-Step meetings, and get a job or go to school. You may also be required to take regular drug tests.

These communities are a great option for people who need to rebuild their support networks during recovery.9 You’ll have more freedom to set your own schedule, while still following some structure. And most importantly, you can develop a new sense of belonging among your peers.

One Step at a Time

Chronic doesn’t mean permanent. Returning to rehab is an opportunity to fine-tune your recovery goals. And with those goals in mind, you can perfect the coping skills you need to reach them.

Search rehabs that treat chronic relapse to learn about pricing, read reviews, and more.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. “Warning Signs of Chronic Relapsing Disease.” Phoenix Rising Recovery, https://www.phoenixrisingrecovery.com/resources/chronic-relapsing-disease-signs/. Accessed 15 Feb. 2023. []
  2. Abuse, National Institute on Drug. “Treatment and Recovery.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, –, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery. []
  3. Seo, Dongju, and Rajita Sinha. “Neuroplasticity and Predictors of Alcohol Recovery.” Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, vol. 37, no. 1, 2015, pp. 143–52. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4476600/. []
  4. Sinha, Rajita. “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1141, Oct. 2008, pp. 105–30. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1441.030. []
  5. Atadokht, Akbar, et al. “The Role of Family Expressed Emotion and Perceived Social Support in Predicting Addiction Relapse.” International Journal of High Risk Behaviors & Addiction, vol. 4, no. 1, Mar. 2015, p. e21250. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.5812/ijhrba.21250. []
  6. Nguyen, Linh-Chi, et al. “Predicting Relapse After Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment in a High-Risk Cohort: The Roles of Anhedonia and Smoking.” Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 126, July 2020, pp. 1–7. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.04.003. []
  7. Gerwe, Corinne F. “Chronic Addiction Relapse Treatment: A Study of the Effectiveness of the High-Risk Identification and Prediction Treatment Model: Part I.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, vol. 19, no. 4, Dec. 2000, pp. 415–27. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0740-5472(00)00136-7. []
  8. Melemis, Steven M. “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, vol. 88, no. 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 325–32. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/. []
  9. Dingle, Genevieve A., et al. “Social Identities as Pathways into and out of Addiction.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 6, 2015. Frontiers, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01795. []

Return to Resource Library

Our Promise

How Is Recovery.com Different?

We believe everyone deserves access to accurate, unbiased information about mental health and addiction. That’s why we have a comprehensive set of treatment providers and don't charge for inclusion. Any center that meets our criteria can list for free. We do not and have never accepted fees for referring someone to a particular center. Providers who advertise with us must be verified by our Research Team and we clearly mark their status as advertisers.

Our goal is to help you choose the best path for your recovery. That begins with information you can trust.