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Why Do Addicts and Alcoholics Relapse?

In order to adequately answer this question we need to first define our terms as to what an alcoholic or addict is. While the DSM-V gives a definition for Alcohol Abuse Disorder, we prefer the descriptions provided by the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.





Moderate Drinkers


"Moderate drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor entirely if they have good reason for it. They can take it or leave it alone.," i.e. what AAs call "normies."


Hard Drinkers


"He may have the habit badly enough to gradually impair him physically and mentally. It may cause him to die a few years before his time. If a sufficiently strong reason - ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor - becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate." The rooms of AA/NA/CA are filled with people that fall into this category.


The Real Alcoholic


"But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink."


For the purposes of this discussion we will focus on the last category - the real alcoholic. The Big Book describes this type of drinker as, "Here is the fellow that has been puzzling you, especially in his lack of control. He does absurd, incredible, and tragic things while drinking. He is a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde..."


So why do they relapse? Most alcoholics will give you any number of excuses but the fact is that they make little sense when weighted against the negative outcome of picking up a drink or drug. My girlfriend/boyfriend broke up with me. I lost my job. I'm getting a divorce. My kids are struggling.


Addiction is not causal. It's genetic. What this essentially means is that while external factors can exacerbate a persons addiction, it is not the root cause. The Big Book is clear, "unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery." Our experience has shown that a relapse is the culmination of months or years of ignoring our spiritual program of action.


We have yet to meet an alcoholic or addict that has claimed they relapsed even though they were engaged in all three sides of the triangle - Unity, Service, and Recovery. Most alcoholics will see the facts long before they accept the reality. It's why the Big Book says, "Alcohol is a subtle foe."


Steps 10, 11, and 12 are often referred to as the "Maintenance Steps." Step 10 ensures that we continue to take personal inventory and that our side of the street is clean. Step 11 keeps us connected to a power greater than ourselves. Step 12 means that we carry the message of AA and practice these principles in all our affairs. Keeping these steps as a daily part of your recovery is the closest we come to immunity from drugs and alcohol.


Lastly, if you think you're going to relapse or you see warning signs - not talking to your sponsor, not praying and meditating, not working with others - call your sponsor. If you don't have a sponsor join YANA and we can help get you connected or point you to the closest meeting in your area. YANA means, "You Are Not Alone" and you truly are not. We're all in this together

Our mission is to inspire and empower people to live a happy and sober life.

  • YANA | A New Kind of Sober
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