Am I a Failure if I Have to Return to Treatment?

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If you’ve been to rehab and ended up relapsing, you’re probably thinking you failed. Ultimately, that feeling is natural. You probably threw everything at a goal and made it all or nothing, I will not drink, or I will stay sober. Then you don’t manage. You relapse. And, whether that means going off on a bender or a single drink doesn’t matter. You relapsed. Are you a failure now? The truth is that the black and white thinking of categorizing a relapse as an abject failure is incredibly harmful to you and your future – as well as your ability to get sober.

Eventually, yes, you failed at this attempt at being sober. But, there is a lot of nuance and a lot of things to keep in mind when you look at what that failure means and how it impacts you. You relapsed, you failed at staying clean or sober, and now you’re back in treatment, what does that mean for you?

Returning to Treatment is Not Failure

The first and most important part of this is that if you’re going back to rehab, you’re not failing. You’re trying again. You had a setback. Your readmission does not mean you’re failing. It means you made a mistake, you slipped up, you took a few steps back, and now you’re putting in the work to correct that. Setbacks can be hard. That’s especially true if you’ve already put a lot of work into staying clean and sober. At the same time, you’re actively choosing to go back to treatment, you want to be clean and sober.

It’s also normal to need more treatment. For example, even in things like physical therapy, it’s fairly common for people to need follow up therapy or treatment after their doctors and they themselves thought they were fine. Mental health patients also often require ongoing treatment and more support – even when they thought they were fine. Substance use disorders can flare up at any time and the important thing is to recognize when you need help and to ask for it. It’s better if you do so before you relapse but doing so at all is the most important thing. You want to get and stay clean and sober, so you keep asking for help every time you can’t do it on your own.

a man thinking if he is a failure once he returns to treatment

Recovery is Not a Linear Path

Almost no one will wake up one day and be ready to climb a mountain with no training and no preparation or tools. Yet, that’s often what people do when they go into rehab. You have to learn along the way. That often means stopping, restarting, false starts, and taking the wrong route. In addiction treatment, it means that sometimes you’ll relapse. In fact, relapse rates hover between 40 and 75% in the first 3 weeks to 6 months after treatment. Most people relapse 1-6 times before managing to stay clean and sober for 5+ years. Relapse is normal. It is not inevitable, you can avoid it with good planning, coping mechanisms, and a support network – however, it is normal. It’s a setback but it is not the end of the world or the end of your treatment.

So, if you stop seeing rehab as a straight path up and start looking at it as more like a hiking path where you might take stops, double back on yourself, get lost, and actually need help and support at every step of the path to make it through – you’ll have a much clearer picture of what relapse and readmittance to treatment mean for you.

Learning From Mistakes

Failing to stay clean and sober is a big deal. It’s something you should be paying attention to. It means that whatever support, structure, and coping mechanisms you had in place were not enough to help you prevent relapse. Going back to treatment is a good first step. However, while you’re there, you should work on identifying why you relapsed, what you can do to recognize the signs sooner next time, and how you can reach out and get help first instead of waiting till after the relapse happens.

For many people, the following triggers are often very common in relapse:

  • Changes in routine (e.g., new job, new partner, changes to commute)
  • Emergencies or traumatic events
  • Life stress
  • Support systems not functioning
  • Lack of life and social skills

It’s also important to look at specific triggers and understand how they might have impacted you. For example:

  • Stress
  • Exposure to drugs and alcohol
  • Re-exposure to a traumatic event or memory linked to substance abuse

For example, you might relapse after you’ve been exposed to drugs or alcohol. You might have run into someone you used to drink or use with. You might have run into a situation where you’d previously have used or drank to cope with. You might be going through a lot of stress. You might have had something good happen, like a promotion or a marriage and wanted to celebrate. Triggers can be diverse. Understanding them, accepting them, and figuring out how to cope with them is an important part of relapse prevention. And, it should be one of the focuses of your treatment and your approach to getting your recovery back.

a male client with his wife returns to treatment

Getting Back to Treatment

Readmission is just one step of getting back into recovery. It’s also the first step to deciding that you haven’t failed at your recovery. Making the decision to go back to treatment and to get ongoing care means you are actively choosing that you didn’t fail, you just had a setback. However, it’s also important to ensure you are taking steps to ensure that your relapse is taken into account, that you figure out what’s missing in your recovery so you can fill those gaps, and that you use your setback as a steppingstone forward.

This also means figuring out how you’re going to get additional support moving forward. For example, do you need counseling while you’re at home? Is it better if you live in a sober home for 6+ months after you get out of treatment? Is it better for you to go to a self-help group and have social accountability? If you failed once, you probably need extra support moving forward because you know you have those weak points in your recovery and now you need to figure out how to account for them. Having a discussion about your needs and your future with your counselor or therapist will be an important part of this decision-making process – you don’t have to do everything alone.

Eventually, relapse is a big deal. It’s not safe for you, it’s bad for your life choices, and it’s a major setback. At the same time, as long as you keep picking up and going back to treatment and saying “I failed recovery right now but that’s not going to last and someday I will succeed” you haven’t failed your recovery and all you have to do to keep moving is to keep going back to treatment. Good luck with your treatment and with sticking to recovery.

Stairway Recovery Homes has multiple sober living homes located in Los Angeles, CA. We provide community-based recovery homes for both men’s sober living and women’s sober living. After leaving outpatient addiction treatment, a sober living environment is a good choice for extra support in staying sober.

About Jim Sugel

SEO and Digital Marketing Expert Jim Sugel is an SEO and Digital Marketing Expert in addition to having achieved the coveted Google Partner status for PPC expertise. Prior to focusing on Digital Marketing, Jim worked in Information Technology roles at a variety of national firms as a software engineer and consultant, resulting in many years of professional coding and consulting experience. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, cum laude in Computer Science and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. After relocating to Southern California from his native Chicago, he became involved in the recovery industry here, discovering a natural niche in helping treatment centers with Digital Marketing and other technology projects. Jim is the Founder and CEO of Airtight Digital, a firm that specializes in digital marketing for the behavioral health industry. His other interests include hiking, canyoneering, urban exploration, and screenwriting. Jim now lives in beautiful and sunny Orange County, California.