What Percentage of People in Recovery Stay Sober?

stay clean

While addiction is an illness and not a character flaw, many people struggling with substance use disorder are labeled “weak” or “hopeless” by those with serious stigma. Even after quitting, they may be treated as though their eventual return to drug use were a foregone conclusion. Fortunately, with proper preparation and support, it is possible to prevent relapse and stay clean.

Relapse vs. Staying Clean

It’s known that 40 to 60 percent of people who get “clean” will relapse into drug abuse—which, while hardly ideal, also means that 40 to 60 percent of people do stay clean on the first try. But even limiting the definition to “first try” successes is misleading, as it ignores others who deserve to be credited:

  • Those who finally stay sober after two or more detoxes.
  • Those who recover from relapse without needing another full detox.
  • Those who have one-time slips (e.g., taking a single impulse drink) without falling back into a pattern of substance misuse.

What should be understood about relapse:

  • Addiction is a chronic illness, and relapse is the equivalent of having a condition such as asthma, cancer, diabetes or hypertension flare up again after a period of being under control.
  • Relapse does not mean a person has “failed,” and definitely does not prove that someone is incapable of staying clean.
  • The risk of relapse is far greater if someone rushes back to “normal” life (with its addiction triggers and stresses) immediately after detox, or if an ongoing treatment plan is neglected. People who spend at least three months in post-detox treatment, exploring the issues behind addiction and preparing thoroughly for a relapse-resistant lifestyle, have the best chance of staying clean for life.

What Does It Mean to Stay Clean?

It should be noted that “staying clean” means more than avoiding drug use. It also means avoiding other addictions (chemical or behavioral) and maintaining the proper attitude toward relapse temptations (no flirting with them by continuing to drive past the liquor store, ignoring warning signals or developing delusions of being “beyond that now”). Staying clean also comprises other components of an overall addiction-resistant lifestyle:

  • Healthy living.
  • Ongoing commitment to more meaningful purposes than material success or “getting by.”
  • A solid plan to avoid (or quickly bounce back from) relapse.
  • A strong human support network to keep discouragement and other relapse triggers at bay.

The Longer the Initial Treatment, the Better the Long-Term Outlook

Closely related to the support network principle is the fact that long-term sobriety begins with professional support in the initial detox–recovery period. As already noted, besides getting professional medical care during physical detox, it’s ideal to plan on 90 days or more of post-detox rehab—especially if you have co-occurring mental health issues or a history of relapse. Don’t settle for less than the best chance of staying clean for the long term. You are not your illness, and you deserve the best recovery and the best life!

Find Lasting Freedom in Recovery

Among our top priorities at the Still Waters communities is providing a supportive environment for residents who have relapsed after previous attempts to stay clean from drugs or alcohol. Our 12-Step-based program, spiritual focus and community fellowship—plus our readiness to stay available for as long as needed—will help you along your journey to lasting sobriety. Contact us to learn more about our approach.

Work the Steps,
experience Life with Us.