What Are the Odds of Staying Sober or Relapsing? - Rehab Guide
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What Are the Odds of Staying Sober or Relapsing?

Impossible Is Possible puzzle image

What are the odds of staying sober?

What are the chances an alcoholic will stay sober long-term or relapse? This is a common question for people who are recovering at every stage. There are many reasons for addiction, and the same goes for the odds of staying sober and not relapsing. But does staying sober get easier over time? Or do we always have the potential of relapse?

Whether you are one day sober or 40 years sober, the chances of relapse depend on what is going on in your life. The truth is there is no answer to that question. It depends on what is happening. Now, this doesn’t mean that we are entirely blind. There is genuine research exploring the averages of remaining sober and the chances of relapse.

Is there any research on abstinence?

Despite the lack of funding to study long-term abstinent addicts and alcoholics, studies have taken place—one of the most thorough studies, lasting over eight years, involved 1,200 addicts. The result of this study seems to suggest that the longer you can stay sober, the more chance you will have of remaining sober. Below are the findings from this study.

  • Only about a third of people abstaining for less than a year will remain abstinent.
  • Less than half of those who achieve a year of sobriety will relapse.
  • By making it to 5 years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15 per cent.

These studies may not speak directly to you as an individual. Still, they can shed some light on sobriety and relapse that can help you stay vigilant with your routines, increasing your chances of staying sober in the long term.

Is there any other research focused on sobriety?

The research mentioned above has very little funding, so any findings from this research are limited. However, to find a general view with any foundation, it must have a healthy number of participants, and the sector of finding the odds of addiction relapse still needs the appropriate funding and volunteer numbers to make any traction.

Most of the funding and research goes into finding the most effective way to remain sober and the factors that affect achieving that.

There is ongoing and consistent research on finding what is most effective in getting you sober and helping you maintain a sober life. As a society, this research prioritises finding the odds of remaining sober. Of course, such a question will never have a straight answer; life is cruel and merciful in its unpredictability.

Has there been any research on alcohol relapse?

Yes. Over 30% of people who attempt to get sober will relapse in the first year of doing so. The study then claims that the relapse rate tends to decrease as time goes on; 21.4% of recovering alcoholics relapsed in their second year, 9.6% between three and five years, and then only 7.2% of people relapsed after five years. The study suggests that 70% of those who get sober will relapse at some point.

Perhaps this is why the critical mantra of rehab and aftercare is to see relapse as part of the process rather than the end.

odds of staying sober graph

Does rehab improve my chances of staying sober?

The longer you stay sober, the greater your chances of remaining that way. Rehab is an abstinent space where you are not lured in by temptation, making it easier and more likely you will stay sober during your stay.

People go to rehab for a number of reasons that contribute towards a longer-than-average recovery. A strong immersive experience of therapy and holistic lifestyle-changing programs,  access to medical detox and supervision during withdrawal.

Alcohol rehab improves your chances of getting sober and makes the experience more comfortable and positive.

What does this study say about my journey?

It tells you that relapse is not feared but accepted as a necessary part of maintaining sobriety. We are not suggesting that you go out and drop your guard; quite the opposite. Instead, we encourage you to stay vigilant and wary of the factors that can trigger a relapse, especially after a relapse. The chances are always there, and finding what works for you will pave your road to long-term sobriety.

How can I help keep relapsing at bay?

Whenever you feel the temptation of alcohol rising, take 30 minutes to sit down, preferably in a quiet place on your own if possible, and take that time to take some deep breaths and to think about the consequences of relenting to those temptations and try to remember why you stopped drinking in the first place. Finding this space to think and feel may prevent a relapse.

Another option is to phone someone you are close to; this could be a friend, family member, or sponsor. Having a conversation about how you feel can make a difference. It is important to remember that maintaining sobriety comes one day at a time.

If you don’t have anyone you can talk to or want to speak to someone in a confidential setting over the phone, then please call us now, and we will be happy to speak further about your current situation.

What should I do if I relapse?

If you relapse, it is not the end of the world. It is essential not to be too hard on yourself and to remember that relapse is not uncommon and can even go towards making your next attempt at being sober even stronger.

After a relapse, people often need to isolate themselves from shame and embarrassment, inhibiting their chances of seeking help.

No matter what happens during your journey, no matter how much you relapse, it is to recommit to a sober life. As studies have found, relapsing isn’t the issue. The issue is thinking that a relapse means you failed and then thinking that maybe you don’t have it in you to stop drinking. Remember that if you relapsed, it’s because you have already quit. The potential is there.


https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2083562/#R15 What does recovery mean to you? Lessons from the recovery experience for research and practice

https://aphanew.confex.com/apha/132am/techprogram/paper_75426.htm An exploration of relapse patterns among former poly-substance users

Author 'Fiona Kennedy

Fiona Kennedy

Fiona Kennedy is an editor and content manager who earned her Master of Arts degree from the University of Edinburgh, followed by completing the CELTA Cambridge teaching course in English. She has worked as an editor, writer and personal coach. Coming from a family deeply involved in the rehabilitation and support of those suffering from addiction, she is passionate about helping people to understand and take control of their dependences. Fiona’s other passions include travelling and taking part in community projects.


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