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Who are Most at Risk of Relapse?



It is a common misconception that all people who are in recovery from substance use disorder are at risk of relapse. 

Research has shown that only about one in five people who go through treatment will relapse within their first year of recovery. 

At the same time, though, it is important to be aware of factors that make you more likely to relapse so that you can take steps to prevent this from happening if possible. 

If you have concerns about relapsing or want to learn more about what makes people most likely to relapse after treatment, read on!


Table of Contents

Those in early sobriety

  • The first few months of sobriety are the most difficult.
  • The first few months of sobriety are the most important.
  • The first few months of sobriety are the most dangerous.
  • The first few months of sobriety are the most likely to result in relapse.


Those with poor social connections or poor social support or poor family support

Social support and social connections are important for recovery. 

Family support also plays a role, but it can be a double-edged sword because family members can be both a source of stress and relapse.


Those who have a history of frequent lapses

If you have a history of frequent lapses and relapses, it’s important to keep that in mind when determining the best treatment plan for yourself. 

The more times you’ve had trouble maintaining your sobriety, the higher your risk of relapse is going to be. 

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction and experiencing frequent relapses, it may be time to seek out additional help from a treatment center or therapist.

You can also take some steps on your own to avoid lapses:

  • Identify triggers and come up with strategies for dealing with them
  • Write down all of the reasons why you want to stay sober (e.g., “I’ll miss my family,” or “I don’t want others judging me”) so you can refer back when temptation strikes
  • If a lapse happens despite your efforts, don’t beat yourself up! Chances are good that eventually, things will get better.


Those who relapse for 2 weeks or less before returning to abstinence

  • Relapse is common and normal. While relapsing doesn’t necessarily mean that your treatment didn’t work, it can make you feel like a failure. However, relapse is not the same thing as failure—it’s an important part of recovery, and one that everyone experiences at some point or another.
  • You can learn from your relapse and do better next time. If you did “relapse,” don’t get discouraged! You will likely find yourself going through similar struggles in the future—this is why it’s so important to have supportive people around you who understand what you’re going through during this process.


Younger people (those under age 26)

The first thing to know is that younger people are more likely to relapse. 

Younger people tend to start using drugs and alcohol at an earlier age than older adults, which means they’re also more likely to develop a substance use disorder.

In 2017, 12% of high school students reported current use of marijuana (about 4 million), while 8% reported current use of alcohol (about 2 million).


Those who lack self-efficacy (that is, belief in their ability to resist substance use)

The people most at risk for relapse are those who lack self-efficacy (that is, a belief in their ability to resist substance use). 

People with low self-efficacy usually have the following traits:

  • They feel helpless and defeatist.
  • They believe that they cannot control their use of drugs or alcohol.
  • They think that they will be unable to abstain from drug or alcohol use on their own.

If you have these negative beliefs about your ability to quit using drugs or alcohol, it’s important to learn how to develop more positive thoughts about quitting and staying clean. 

You can do this by learning how to manage stress and anxiety, keeping yourself busy with productive activities when you feel tempted by substance use, finding an effective support group, or working through feelings about past drug abuse experiences in therapy sessions with a trained professional.


If you are concerned about relapsing, it is important to talk to your treatment providers

They can help you work through your issues, find solutions to your problems, develop coping skills, and find recovery support.

A relapse is not a failure. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow, and it can help you find out what you need to stay sober. 

If you are concerned about relapsing, it’s important to talk to your treatment providers or loved ones about what triggers your dangerous behaviors. 

They may be able to help you identify triggers before they become problems so that they don’t lead you back down the path of addiction again!


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