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[ Opinion ]

Relapse Is Part Of The Disease

According to, the official definition of “Relapse” is: 

to fall back into illness after convalescence or apparent recovery or to fall or slip back into a former state or practice.

Anyone with a disease can relapse. You can take steps to try and prevent it, but ultimately it is out of your control. Wearing sunscreen does not mean you will never get skin cancer again, quitting smoking does not mean you are immune to lung cancer, changing your diet does not mean that your diabetes will get better, just more manageable. The list goes on and on. 

Are the chances of harm less than they would be if you continued your bad habits? Of course they are. But they never fully go away.

The same goes for addiction. Addiction is a disease. You know this. It has been drilled in to our heads by rehabs, counselors, doctors, 12-step groups, sponsors and even the government sponsored medical groups like the AMA. Just like any other disease, it does not discriminate. Addiction does not care if you are a 24-year-old supermodel making millions of dollars or a homeless veteran on the street who has been cast out by society and needed something to dull the pain – speaking of which, It is mortifying to see how this country treats its Veterans, but I digress. 

Just like any other disease, we (addicts) did not ask for it. The old adage of “it’s your fault you are hooked on drugs” is neither fair, nor accurate. Take for example someone with skin cancer (this isn’t everyone with skin cancer, just a hypothetical example), imagine someone who obtained the skin cancer by being in the sun too much without sunblock, all the while knowing their risk for doing so. Does this individual get put down or cast out for contracting a self inflicted disease? Certainly not. If and when the cancer is cured, insurance pays for years of treatments to help prevent it from coming back. 

You could apply the same analogy to someone with diabetes -again, not a generalization- we are talking about someone who has obtained their diabetes through a years of poor diet and lack of self care. Their health insurance would normally pay for a lifetime of medication and support. 

So why is it we who suffer from addiction get 28 days and the door? And thats if you’re lucky! It is common sense that with any disease, the chance of relapse is greatly increased without having the help and support of doctors, medication, therapy and so on. Yet addicts are put in that position time and time again. After rehab, we are left to our own devices. What would happen if a cancer patient no longer got treatment 28 days after they were “cured?” Chances are pretty damn high that they would relapse and die. Addicts are supposed to just figure it out?

The American Medical Association has listed Addiction as a “primary, chronic disease”. To quote Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition:

At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas. Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions. (1)

Addiction is now an epidemic. Overdose killed a record high of 47,055 people in the United States. Unfortunately, there are no statistics on how many of those overdoses were due to relapse but I would venture to say it is most likely a high percentage.

I used to look at relapse as my fault. I lost multiple years of sobriety with one needle and could have easily spiraled back to hell. I was angry at myself for a very long time. But with time, the help of counselors and loved ones, along with an enormous amount of self-reflection, I have come to realize that it is in no way my fault. I did everything I could to prevent it. I went to meetings, followed the steps, and talked to friends and family. I replaced bad habits with healthy ones and continually reminded myself of where I was before I became sober. But no matter what I did, no matter what you do, there is a chance that your disease will become stronger then you from time to time. It’s a lifelong war, with many battles. 

It is an incurable disease. It is a disease that we carry for life. We work every day to get stronger, to become better, and to outsmart the disease. Yet, without warning, it could kill before the day is over. It is sad, but it is true. Just like any other disease, it affects everyone we know, everyone we love and everyone who loves us in return. 

So why, despite everything mentioned above, despite medical advances, media coverage, and more and more new programs being put in place to fight the war on addiction; why does the stigma still exist? The stigma that addiction and relapse are the fault and choice of the addict. Why do so many people still regard addiction as a moral failing. Why does it usually take a close up and personal experience to finally understand? 

And where are the marches, the gatherings, the parades? Where are the voices in recovery? Where is the research being conducted to help mitigate this disease? Why is there still such a discconenct between the medical and the 12 step community?  It is a disease that is widely misunderstood; a disease that people by large are not educated enough on. 

As an addict you are given very little help for a very short period of time. After that, it is up to you. You are only so strong. I was only so strong. We can’t do it on our own, this much we know. We cannot fight relapse forever in the chaos of our minds. It is time we speak out about our disease. It is time we get the help we deserve. It is time we change the stigma. 

I do not blame society for relapse and neither should you. I blame the disease. It beat me. I do, however, blame society for the stigma that makes it almost impossible for us to properly fight our disease. Until this country changes the way addiction is treated, relapse, just like any other untreated disease, is inevitable for all but few. Inevitable, but not your fault. 

And in the event of a relapse remember this, you can only relapse if you were sober, which means you have the knowledge and strength inside of you to become sober again. So never give up. For now, all we have is each other. Help anyone you can. Share your story. You never know whose life your story can save.

For more stories from this author, you can go to their website, by clicking here. 

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