Addiction relapse rates vary considerably, depending on the person and the drug. A commonly cited statistic from The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that relapse rates are between 40 and 60 percent, while other estimates put the rate of alcohol and opioid relapse at closer to 90 percent in the first year. The likelihood of relapse should give anyone in recovery cause for concern, but it’s worth keeping in mind that people do succeed in recovery even if they relapse several times. There is some good news for women: they have much lower relapse rates than men. One study found that 32 percent of men and 22 percent of women had relapsed at six months after treatment. The difference appears to be attributable to mainly two factors. First, women are much more engaged in treatment. They are more willing to open up and discuss their issues with their therapists and especially with their therapy groups, making therapy much more effective. Second, women are better at forming sober friendships after treatment. A strong sober network is one of the biggest protective factors against relapse. Despite these advantages, women can and do relapse and the reasons for their relapse may be slightly different on average from the reasons men relapse. Here are some common reasons women relapse after addiction treatment.
They are in an unhealthy relationship.
Relationships are the biggest risk factor for relapse in women. They are also a major factor leading to substance use in the first place. While men are more likely to start using with their friends, women are more likely to start using drugs because of an intimate partner. If a woman gets treatment, but her partner does not, she remains at a very high risk for relapse because she is still in the situation that led to her using in the first place. It also suggests her partner will not be supportive of her efforts at recovery, making sobriety an uphill battle. She may also be in a codependent relationship, where her partner uses and she is expected to take care of him. This is an unhealthy relationship pattern, often learned from one’s parents. Codependence frequently leads to substance use and addiction. Being in a relationship with someone who still uses is not the only relationship problem that can lead to relapse. Women are more likely than men to be abused by a partner, which can lead to depression and anxiety, big risk factors for relapse. Even relationships that aren’t physically abusive may be unhealthy in other ways that increase relapse risk. While family therapy is important for anyone in addiction treatment, it’s especially important for women, since relationships create a bigger risk.
They have an untreated mental illness.
Mental illness is a mixed bag for women. As noted above, women tend to be more engaged in group therapy, which leads to more positive outcomes. This is a major advantage, since more than half of people who struggle with addiction have a co-occurring mental illness. However, women are also at significantly greater risk for the most common mental illnesses. Women are about twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with both anxiety disorders and depression, both of which significantly increase risk of addiction. Women are also more than three times as likely as men to develop PTSD after a traumatic experience. It’s estimated that more than 60 percent of people suffering from PTSD have some degree of substance use issue. Therefore, women may have better outcomes from treatment, but they also have more mental health challenges to begin with. If these aren’t adequately addressed in treatment, they are more vulnerable to relapse. Women who try to quit using on their own or with the help of a mutual support group such as a 12-step group, SMART Recovery, or Refuge Recovery may not address the underlying mental health issue at all. These groups are often helpful but they aren’t designed to replace professional therapy for psychological problems. If you’ve not been able to stay sober using one of these programs, consider seeking integrated therapy for addiction and mental health.
They have major life stress.
Stress is a major trigger of relapse for both men and women, but it may affect them differently. Women often experience more family stress. This is especially true of single mothers who have to work and take care of kids. These responsibilities can easily feel overwhelming without help. As noted above, women are also more likely to develop PTSD after a major life stressor, such as an assault, accident, natural disaster, or an unexpected death in the family. It’s crucial to seek treatment after these kinds of traumas, even if your therapy during addiction treatment was successful. Women do have an advantage in managing stress through greater social resources. Although men and women report comparable levels of social support, women tend to put more effort into maintaining a greater number of social connections, which may offset some stress.
They have unrealistic expectations.
Someone entering treatment for addiction necessarily expects things to get better, but sometimes they expect too much too soon. These inflated expectations can lead to disappointment and disillusionment. This can be the start of “stinking thinking,” which 12-step veterans recognize as the first step toward relapse. Life will absolutely get better in recovery, but it takes time. Sobriety doesn’t solve all your problems, but it helps you stop making new ones.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.