1.1.7 Relapse (Returning to Active Addiction)

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A common, although not inevitable feature of the change process, is relapse. Failure to continue maintenance (recovery actions) tends to result in relapse for most chronic health conditions. Based on data collected for people who were trying to quit smoking, researchers (Prochaska and Diclemente, 1983) estimated that the Maintenance stage lasted from six months to about five years.

In the 1990 Surgeon General’s report on smoking cessation, it was found that after 12 months of continuous abstinence, 43% of individuals returned to regular smoking. It was not until 5 years of continuous abstinence (maintenance work) that the risk for relapse dropped to 7%.

Other addictive conditions such as substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder also have a similar time frame for high risk of relapse.4 This is why the Maintenance stage of change is so important in recovery, and why support groups play such a central role.