What is a Chronic Relapser?

Friday, August 16, 2019 | By admin

It is a deeply rooted aspect of the human condition to be our own worst critics. When we are just out of inpatient treatment and in early recovery, these voices can often get louder than before. The voices that tell us:

  • “I don’t deserve this”
  •  “I’ll never make it to a year” 
  • “I’m just a chronic relapser”. 

These are the voices of our addiction, and they are scary because they speak to us in our own voice. This makes it really easy to listen to and to believe, but that doesn’t mean that what they say is true. 

What is a Chronic Relapser?

Someone who dubbs themselves a chronic relapser is someone who has been unable to string together any length of sobriety, despite multiple attempts at trying. Or, when they do get some time under their belt, they inevitably go back out. It is a tragic, maddening, and heartbreaking thing to watch, and to be the one doing it is even more frustrating. 

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million Americans struggled with substance abuse or substance use disorder in 2017.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse released that the relapse rate for substance use disorders is estimated to be between 40-60% as of the year 2017.

If there is any single identifying factor of an addict or alcoholic, it is that even when we DON’T want to use, even when we know that we will lose everything we have, we don’t have a choice. 

We don’t have a choice because we haven’t learned any other way. It is the definition of an addict, and it is the reason why 12 step fellowships were created. It is the reason for all of the extensive psychological research in the mental health and substance abuse field. It is the reason why thousands of people every year die from this disease. 

It doesn’t have to be your story. 

When Chronic Relapsing Ends

I always thought I was a chronic relapser. In my addiction, I would promise myself and my loved ones that I wouldn’t get high today, or I wouldn’t get coke tonight. I bribed myself with, “If I can make it through the week without getting high, I’ll spend two nights worth of tips on coke, dope, and booze on Friday because I deserve it” 

I never made it more than a few hours. 

In early sobriety, I would string together a couple of months at a time, and always around the 90-day mark, I would go back out. Life would get too real, responsibilities would get too heavy, and I couldn’t cope anymore. I would convince myself that just one drink would be fine, that it was never really my drug of choice anyway, and by the end of the night, would be blackout drunk, with an empty bag of coke, drunk driving home. 

chronic relapser

After a year and a half of stringing together three months, and never really working the steps – I hit another bottom. So, I dragged myself back to that sponsor I never called, and read through the book, finally trying to absorb something. 

I had “attempted” to work the steps before, I had read through the first few chapters, thinking it was extremely boring, not relating at all, completely absorbed with waiting for my crush to text me. I always treated it like school work, reading it because I was told to. I never cared to actually try and learn something from it, until now. 

How to Make the Voices Stop

None of us WANT to be clean and sober, we WANT to learn how to control our drinking and be like “normal” people. When we come into these rooms, this is what many of us are here to try and learn. 

What we discover, is that people here aren’t learning how to control their using. They are learning how to live WITHOUT getting drunk and high. We can doubt their methods until the cows come home, but we either doubt the steps until we try them, or we doubt them until we die without them. This is the hard truth that we will all eventually discover. 

So, in order to silence those voices that tell us we aren’t worth it, or we will never get a year, we have to take these suggestions:

  • Get a sponsor
  • Become a part of the fellowship
  • Make your bed
  • Get honest and vulnerable with people
  • Learn how to trust
  • Learn how to forgive
  • Live in gratitude


These things sound simple, but they often require trial and error, failures and successes. For many of us, it takes someone else being vulnerable in order to feel it ourselves. It takes someone else trusting us in order for us to trust them. That is where the beauty of the program is. This group of people that surrounds us, and believes in us when we don’t believe in ourselves, that is usually the first time we see that a better life is possible. 

We learn through working the steps with a sponsor that someone actually does care if we live or die, but they aren’t going to put up with our BS. We learn that love means honesty and accountability and trust. Day by day, we become a little less focused on getting drunk or high, and a little more focused on how we are affecting the people around us. 

In order to break the cycle of being a chronic relapser, one has to actually give in to the program. Stop calling yourself a chronic relapser. Stop calling your friend a chronic relapser. Break the stigma of relapse, and focus on being one of the ones that finally got it. For some people, it only takes one. For others, it can take decades. The point is that we are not chronic relapsers, but chronic attempters. Be the latter. 

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