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September 14, 2018

What is a Chronic Relapser?


A lot of phrases and slogans get thrown around in the rooms of twelve-step programs, and unfortunately, one of the very common ones is “Chronic Relapser”. So what exactly is a chronic relapser? How many relapses does it take to become one, and is there any ever opportunity of staying sober for someone who IS a chronic relapser?

I think overall, a chronic relapser is a phrase that people usually identify THEMSELVES as before anyone else does. It’s kind of like being an alcoholic, where no one else can convince us that we are one until we know for ourselves that it’s true. However, discovering that you are an alcoholic leads to the discovery and work of the 12 steps, which gets us sober, so that is actually a good thing, to finally know to yourself you’re an alcoholic or addict.

But what about those people, that know in their hearts that they suffer from this obsession of the mind and allergy of the body, but can never seem to stay sober, in spite of their own self-knowledge?

What is a Chronic Relapser?

It’s as easy as it sounds. A chronic relapser is a person who, despite knowing they need to get sober, finds that they habitually relapse. It is definitely not a badge of honor, but it is something that anyone who has experienced relapse can empathize with.

That doesn’t mean that someone who relapses once or twice while trying to get sober is necessarily deemed a chronic relapser, but more so people who relapse again, and again, and again, and again.

I heard a woman speak at a meeting last night who shared that it took her 25 years to finally pick up a one-year medallion at a meeting without relapsing. This is by no means the norm, but do you know how they say the phrase, “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly?” Well, this can kind of fall into that category.

The hardest part about relapse is coming back, and a lot of people relapse because they convince themselves that the program doesn’t work, or it isn’t working for them.

Support group

Why People Relapse

I’m going to be very clear about this, as I have experienced both long-term recovery and I had gone through 6 relapses to get there. There is one major reason why people relapse, and they will try and convince you or themselves that it was any of these following reasons:

  • They aren’t really an alcoholic or addict (that might be true)
  • The program doesn’t work for them
  • They don’t have enough time to work the steps
  • Their cravings haven’t gone away
  • Life is too hard
  • 12 step programs are a cult
  • What’s the point

However, the REAL reason people relapse, no matter what excuse they tell you, is that they either don’t work any kind of program, or they stopped working their program of choice. That is it. Plain and simple.

I realize it sounds a little harsh, but that’s because it is! Addiction is harsh, death is harsh, life is harsh as a sick and suffering addict, either using or dry.

However, why, if millions and millions of people around the world are staying sober through a 12 step program, would it not work for teeny tiny little you? No matter how “bad” your situation might be, I guarantee you that there are people out there, staying sober from the 12 steps, who had or have it a whole lot worse. There are people staying sober in prison, people staying sober through cancer and other terminal diseases, there are people staying sober through the death of their parents and children.

The only thing that keeps these people sober is their dedication to their program and their persistence to continue coming back. That is it. It isn’t some special quality that these people have that the “Chronic Relapsers” don’t have, except maybe some willingness and a whole lot of honesty.

How to Prevent a Relapse

Here’s the thing. In early sobriety, you are going to have cravings. That is the nature of the game because we have been living our lives using drugs or booze as the solution to all of our problems. Now that we don’t have them, our first thought is automatically going to be to use them when times get tough, or when we are bored, or when we are happy, or sad, or tired, or whatever.

The most helpful thing that prevents us from giving in to those cravings in early sobriety, is the program. Working the steps, getting involved with the community is huge, and going to meetings. I’m not going to talk about a higher power here because frankly, the fellowship is usually the most palpable higher power that we can handle in the beginning.

So stick with the winners, get a sponsor, do your steps, and when a craving arises, do something else! Go hang out with people, go to a meeting, go for a run, do anything else besides sit in the s*** and think about how sad you are.

After the cravings start to go away,  CONTINUE working the steps. Finish the steps, and start sponsoring other people. By this point, you WILL have had a spiritual experience.

Spiritual Experiences

A lot of people think they aren’t working the program correctly because they never had a “white light” experience or they don’t feel their higher power constantly. A spiritual experience is defined in the back of the book as all of those little moments in your sobriety where your thinking was outside of the realm of selfishness, where you made a decision based on the greater good, and you lived in the solution rather than the problem.

Spirituality isn’t some state where you are placed in perfect harmony with the whole universe and you never do any wrong. It is the journey that you take to get to that place. You are always going to make mistakes and fall a little short. Spirituality is the difference between those who stay down and those who get back up.

For chronic relapsers, the strength comes in returning to the program every time. It is a strength to continuously pick yourself back up and continue the fight. It is a strength to WANT to be better. The strongest are those that pick themselves back up, come back to the rooms, and finally WORK a program.

Getting Help

Being sober and in recovery does not mean that everything is smooth sailing. There is no straight line to recovery, and it, like other diseases, can be extremely difficult to manage. However, by developing a plan of attack in regards to coping with cravings, you can set yourself up for success.

If you are in recovery but are struggling with handling your cravings, reach out for help. Chances are you already know who to call if you are in need of some guidance. By making that call, you can help yourself build a new strength in your recovery that can keep you from risking it all just for one more hit or drink. There is support available for you.

Depending on the severity of your wellbeing, things that can help you during this time can include going to regular support group meetings, seeing a therapist (or increasing sessions if already seeing one), or potentially even going back to rehab. If you are unsure of which option is best for you, reach out to us right now. Our drug rehab can help you