The First Big Lie About Relapse


Lie #1:  Relapse is a Moral Failure.

The statistics aren’t pretty. One well-publicized estimate puts relapse rates at 92%. (Rehab centers have countered with their own statistics of meth users who successfully complete rehab – at a 10 to 30% relapse rate.) The statistic that rings true to my experience is one I’ve heard from several recovery professionals: a crystal meth addict who is finally able to quit, will slip or relapse on average between 7 and 13 times.

But what does all this mean for you?  First, the good news is you don’t have to be average.

You can be the exception. If you’ve slipped, this most recent relapse can be your last.

The key is to: 1) end your relapse as soon as possible, and 2) learn from it so it won’t happen again.

The truth. Recovering from crystal meth is a life-long challenge and very few people who are addicted stop using successfully the first time around. I’ll say it again: the average is 7 to 13 relapses before success in quitting takes hold.

For most people, learning how to keep off meth is the same as learning a new skill—like riding a bicycle. Do you know many people who learned to ride a bicycle without falling over a few times? And some of us fell many times before we finally learned the skill.

Relapse does not mean moral failure. It is part of recovery for most addicts. I know I seriously tried to stop many times over several months before I finally quit. You could say, “Well, Joseph definitely showed poor judgment during those months because he kept picking up.” Maybe. But crystal meth profoundly affects the brain. My brain was hijacked during those final months by a terrorist that didn’t want to surrender. In those first few weeks, when the brain’s cravings are at their peak, we make impulsive decisions without thinking them through—because we literally can’t think them through. Our brains are impaired.

The medical community considers methamphetamine addiction to be a “chronic disease,” just the same as high blood pressure or asthma. The difference between meth addiction and these other diseases is the location of the malfunction. With addiction, the malfunction is in the brain—so the illness affects feelings and behaviors. Because of this, those who don’t know any better view addiction as a moral issue, a matter of willpower or character. But the truth is: addiction is a biological process in a brain that is malfunctioning.

We don’t blame someone with high blood pressure or asthma for the physical malfunction happening in their bodies. And we certainly don’t shame them when they have an acute flare-up of their disease. Why is it different for the meth addict? It shouldn’t be.

So, yes. If you or someone you care about relapses, it’s completely natural to feel discouraged, even angry. But don’t turn that anger on yourself or others. Turn it toward the disease.