I often hear people talk about relapse being part of recovery. To this, I often roll my eyes, and shake my head. Although relapse is common within the recovery community, but this does not mean that relapse has to be a part of recovery. In fact, I would argue that anyone working an active twelve-step program rooted in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous has 100% chance of living a recovered life after treatment.
Page 58 of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous addresses this very topic by stating:
“…rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; space they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, space but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.”
The addict’s mindset is predicated upon the belief that they are either 100% in or 100% out. Even the family members of addicts and alcoholics contend with this mindset on a daily basis. I can’t count how many times a father has asked me, “so what percentage chance of success do you think my son has?” They often follow this up with, “I know you probably can’t answer that or might not even know but I’m just curious if you can ballpark it for me?”
The truth is, this is a very difficult question to answer. The question and answer both hinge on several subjective definitions. First, what do you consider success after treatment? Is success represented by an addict or alcoholic that never picks up a drink or highly-addictive drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, or opioids again as long as they live? Or, Is it a lifelong battle of recovery fraught with both peaks and valleys?
Another difficulty involved with answering this question is related to the fact that minimization and under reporting are all too common with the addict and alcoholic after the completion of treatment. During a follow-up call, several addicts and alcoholics will report that they are sober. However, we really have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. They might sound good on the phone, but how can we be certain that they haven’t picked up a drug or drink since they left treatment?
There are different beliefs about what constitutes a relapse. Terms like lapse and relapse are often used to describe the moment that an addict or alcoholic uses a substance for the first time after a stint of sobriety. However, debates about the definitions of these two words continue to rage on. Some refer to a lapse as an erroneous thought or action that may have led one down a bad path. Some users will attempt to rationalize and justify their behavior by calling this a “slip” rather than a lapse. While others in the program refer to a relapse as a repeated pattern of drug or alcohol usage and yet there are others that consider a relapse to be the first time someone picks up a substance and uses it after a time of sobriety.
As you can tell, there are a several opinions about what success and relapse looks like. As an intern, I used to study how many of my clients would stay sober versus how many of them would relapse after leaving treatment. The results were so depressing that I eventually stopped tracking the information. I learned that there is no accurate way to predict why one client would stay sober after leaving treatment and another one would relapse. To pretend to have a “silver bullet” answer on this data would be foolish.
I’ve had clients show up like absolute rock stars while in treatment at Stonegate Center. They do everything we ask them to do in and outside of treatment. I have also had clients that fought the treatment team every step of the way and refused to accept any recommendations that were offered. The curious thing is that I’ve seen people from both camps stay sober. A person’s performance in treatment is not necessarily an accurate indicator of whether or not they will stay sober after leaving treatment.
The true test begins for clients when they walk across the bridge to begin the next step in their journey to a life of recovery. The temptations of people, places, and things are rampant, but those individuals are now equipped with the tools and mindset needed to stay sober. Their mental obsession with drugs and alcohol has been removed by God and the client is prepared to step into a fulfilling journey filled with all of the promises that 12-Step Recovery has to offer.
The myth is that relapse is a part of recovery and the truth is that we serve an all-powerful God. As Philippians 4:13 reminds us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So, the answer is no. Relapse is not a part of recovery. It can become a part of recovery if your will and your life is not fully turned over to him. The same is true if someone has faith in God but never works a 12-Step Program. Without the action required behind the relationship with God, people often relapse. James 2:14 poses the question, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?”
To assume that relapse is a part of recovery is also to place limits on God’s power. Rather than put God in a box by telling him what he is and isn’t capable of, I would like to challenge you to broaden your understanding of him by reading about his miracles. Whatever your human struggles are, turn your life and will over to God and watch as everything radically changes for you.
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, reach out to us. We’d be more than happy to walk you through your recovery options. Shoot an email to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at (817) 993-9733. We’re looking forward to helping you attain long-term sobriety!
Satchel Stillwell is the Clinical Director of Stonegate Center. He has worked in the field of counseling since 2013 and has had work published in the Fort Worth Child magazine. Upon completing his Master’s in Counseling at DBU, he began serving the male population at Stonegate Center as a Licensed Professional Intern in 2014. You can usually find Satchel watching military history documentaries or playing with his three lovely children when he isn’t at Stonegate Center.