Why Does Rehab Sometimes Fail?

We all know that making a resolution to change our ways is often not sustained over time.  We all fail with our good intentions to change and do better, and we fall back into what is comfortable, and easy to do.  That’s normal.  Every year, many of us make New Year Resolutions, which we know in our hearts will only last for a few weeks or months, at the most.  We understand that, and we forgive ourselves for our failings, and the failings of others, who fail in similar ways.

The Goal of Rehab

It is very much harder for anyone with an addiction to keep to his or her good intentions.  Why?  Anyone with an addiction, or who has ever had an addiction, is fighting against a formidable foe.  The goal of entering Rehab is to come out at the end of the course of treatment, abstinent, emotionally stronger, and much better equipped to fight and overcome, the power of addiction.

This is done in a number of ways, but basically, you learn about addiction, and about yourself.   When you have awareness and insight into why you feel the ways that you do, and why you react to those feelings in certain ways, you can exercise more control over what you think and feel and therefore, what you do.  You can learn to run your own life, instead of being driven by your addiction.

After a course of Rehab, the former addict will hopefully have learned, all sorts of new ways to deal with the temptations, and life stresses that resulted in addiction in the first place.  All the same temptations will still be there, so the risks of relapse are high, and constant. But after Rehab, the former addict will have new skills and tactics to outwit the enemy – and that enemy is their Addiction.   

It should not be surprising that Rehab sometimes fails.  Or that it might fail many times for the same person.  The pressures to fail are extremely high, and they never go away, although in many cases those pressures can lessen to some extent over time.

Also, the more success against temptation that a former addict can notch up on the Addiction scoreboard, the stronger and more confident they become in the struggle.  They also learn more and more about themselves and their addiction, through the experience of successfully living in recovery.  For example, they know how to avoid high-risk situations.  And when they find themselves in a high-risk situation, they can recognize it for what it is, and know how to deal with it, without falling back into addiction.

That is the theory.  But we all know that no-one can ever be perfect all of the time, even if we try to be.  Every single person is always failing to live up to their own expectations, and the expectations of others in some way.  Some people more than others, but this failure to be perfect is completely normal.  It’s understandable – it’s even what we should be expecting to happen, in ourselves, and others.

Everyone Gives In to Temptations Every Day – It’s Normal

Non-addicted people give in to temptation almost every day, such as that slice of cheesecake when we are supposed to be on a diet.  Or ordering pizza, and eating nearly all of it, when we know we should be having a salad sandwich. We forgive ourselves for these lapses, and others forgive us too. Why?

Because we understand why they do it, because we understand why we do it – it’s because we want to do it, and therefore, sometimes, we do.  It’s because we are all human.  We know that no one is perfect. These ordinary lapses are quickly forgotten, and life goes on in much the same way as before.  These non-addicted people rarely appreciate how lucky they are.  These lapses are only minor misdemeanors on life’s journey.  They do not have devastating consequences.  Unfortunately, addicts are not so lucky.

And in other areas unrelated to addiction, there are even more serious failures to resist temptation that happen every day in the world, such as failing to resist the temptation of having an affair.  Everyone who is having an affair knows perfectly well that they shouldn’t be doing it, and that things could go terribly wrong for themselves and others if they do, but people keep doing it anyway.

Having an affair is not a minor misdemeanor that can be swept under the carpet and forgotten, and yet people keep doing it anyway.   And we all know why – it’s because they want to – they really, really, want to.

Any former addict, who is already in successful recovery, knows the power of that feeling of really wanting to give in to temptation, every single day of their lives.  Every single day, they really, really, want to give their addiction what it still craves.  Their addiction hasn’t gone away, even though they have become abstinent.  It is always there, waiting for an unguarded opportunity to fight back.

Every single day that that a former addict manages to stay abstinent is a significant personal victory over their Addiction.  It is difficult, or even impossible, for non-addicted people to fully understand the difficulty and magnitude of that daily struggle.

And then, one day…..they fail to be perfect.  They give-in to temptation and it seems to everyone as if they are right back where they started.  Suddenly it feels as if they have been totally defeated, and all of their hard work and all those daily victories have become meaningless, and worthless – and therefore, they are worthless and useless as well.

They often feel as if their situation is hopeless – that they will never be able to keep defeating their addiction every day, or ever again.  They often feel guilt, remorse, self-loathing and disgust at what they see as their own weakness.  And on top of that, they can see that their family often feels the same way about them as well.

What I want to say to anyone who finds themselves in this situation is this:

You have not failed. 

Rehab has not failed. 

Your loved one has not failed

You are not a failure

It should not surprise anyone if someone who has had the courage to go into rehab, commit to beating their addiction, achieved the success of Recovery, and has then lived among the old temptations for a period of time – sometimes several years without relapsing, can one day stumble in their good intentions.

It should be much more surprising that so many ordinary people manage to overcome their addiction at all, even for one week.  I’m not sure if I could do that.

What is a more Useful Way to Think of Relapse?

Relapsing back into addiction is certainly a set back, for everyone concerned.  But it is not the end of the world. Of course it is one step backwards, but think about all those hundreds of good steps forward you have already achieved.  You are still way ahead on the ‘Me vs Addiction’ score-board.  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  No one can be perfect, all of the time, forever.   And nobody is perfect.  You are just unlucky that, compared to non-addicts, your particular temptations can have such devastating consequences.

Beating an Addiction is a long and exhausting war against a powerful and persistent enemy.  If someone reverts to his or her addiction again, it is a real life testament to the relentless power of Addiction, not to the failure of the person involved.  It is true, that on this occasion, addiction has regained the upper hand – it might have won this single battle, but it has not won the war.

And even more importantly, you have not lost the war.  Addiction is a powerful enemy to defeat.  Addiction never goes away. It lurks in the minds and bodies of recovering addicts waiting for exactly that moment when extra stress, or a high-risk situation can put extra pressure on the addict to give-in to their addiction, and give it what it demands and craves.

Every single day that a former addict remains abstinent is a victory.  If your Addiction sometimes has a victory as well, it does not mean that the whole war is lost.  It also doesn’t mean that this war is not still worth fighting, or that all the previous victories over addiction do not count.  They do.  You are already in a much stronger position to regain the upper hand again, with all the experience and self-confidence you gained during Rehab and during your previous periods of abstinence.

The Value of Support

When a relapse happens, you may need to have a refresher course in a Rehab facility to help you get back onto your desired life path again – back to Recovery.  You will need to find a way to be able to rebuild your self-confidence, and get yourself back to fighting fitness again.  To do that you will often need some extra support.

This support can be found in a number of ways.  For example, from rehab staff, from fellow rehab ‘inmates’, your local doctor, the local AA or NA or similar support groups, and from family and friends. Even in online Forums. All these sources of support are valuable.

One of the major advantages of Support Groups is that the people you find there understand exactly what you are going through, what you are feeling and what you need.  They can lend you their strength when you feel you have lost some of your own.   If you have a Support Buddy from one of these groups, they will be keeping a watchful eye on you to keep you strong, and to avoid giving in to the daily temptations.

Families Need Support Too

When someone you love has an addiction, the value of personal support cannot be underestimated . Support is needed for family members just as much as it’s needed for the addict themselves.  Any difficult situation is made easier, when you know you are not alone.   And you are not alone.  If you are someone who has an addict in the family, you really do need support.

If you don’t have access to any addiction-related Support groups, it is up to you to go and find people and places where you can find that support, and where you can give support to others. Everyone needs support, whether they have an addiction or not.  Giving support as well as receiving it, always helps everyone concerned.

If you cannot find a local addiction-related support group, think about starting your own. You might feel that your situation is unique, but there are a lot of people out there in your exact situation, and like you, they probably believe that they are alone.  You just don’t know about them – because people tend to keep quiet about addiction – for many understandable reasons.

Your local doctor might be able to discreetly connect you with others in similar situations.  Or inquire through your church, or the local hospital.   Help lines will also often be able to put you in touch with Support Groups in your area.  Giving Support is as valuable as receiving it.

You can see a List of Help Line Contact details in the Menu at the top of this page.

Addiction-related Support Groups give you access to people who really do know what it’s like to be dealing with Addiction in real life. They have experience.  And their experiences and feelings will be very much like your own.

No one can be strong all of the time.  If you are in a group who understands exactly what you are going through, the stronger ones can help the more stressed ones in times of crisis. And then next time, the roles might be reversed, and you can gain strength by supporting others.  It is always easier to maintain hope, when you don’t have to do it alone.

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Why Does Rehab Sometimes Fail? — 15 Comments

  1. Pingback: Asking for Help is Not Shameful

  2. Thank you for such encouraging article, I am extremely worried for my son who is retalin(drug) and kinxz injection addict, and this is his third trip to the rehab center. His first rehab was three months, second one for eight months and again two months back he relapsed, so we took him back to rehab center. pleaase… pray for my son’s recovery he is almost thirty years old.
    Very concerned mom.

    • Hello Smom, I’m so sorry that your son has relapsed. You say you took him back to his rehab center, and that’s good. You definitely did the right thing, and it was great that your son agreed to go back too.

      I can give you a couple of links to a website you might find useful:


      And a pdf that might also be helpful


      Are you a member of a Support Group for the Families of Addicts? If not, I encourage you to try to find one, or get in touch with people who can give you Support. If your son’s rehab center has a Support for Families group, you would find that useful.

      Good luck, Smom. Stay strong and keep in touch. I’m sure all our readers are feeling for you right now, and praying for your son’s recovery.

      • Hi, my son is still in rehab and getting help. Once the effect of medication is not there he is a different person, very relaxed and calm. By the way, he is a fourth year medicine student, his final exams start end of this month and he is struggling but working hard and trying his best, with all this drug problem he has some how managed so far. He is very smart in his studies but this ritalin problem is taking too much of his time and we(Family)are exhausted both mentally and financially, but since he is our only son I can’t give up on him. God help all of us who are in similar situations, and please keep praying.

        • Hi Safiah,

          first of all your son is lucky to have such an understanding mother – although he may not realize it until he’s older. It’s great that he is willing to go to Rehab and seems to be trying his best.

          His medical studies give him a big motivation to win his battle with Ritalin, and that would help to motivate him to succeed. He must know he has a bright future if only he is able to get through his current problems.

          Unfortunately it is always exhausting for the families of people with an addiction, and the cost of Rehab programs can be mind-blowing if you cannot find, or get into, a free service.

          Your son will have significant temptations to face down if he graduates to being a doctor – I’m sure you will all have thought about this – it’s that he will have easier access to drugs when he is a doctor.

          There are some doctors who succumb to drug addiction even if they did not have an addiction before graduating.

          Also being a doctor can be stressful – long hours and really challenging situations to deal with in a professional capacity.

          That can sometimes cause doctors to find ‘relief’ in such things as alcohol – or worse.

          Working night shifts is also a real risk factor – because some doctors start to take sleeping pills to get to sleep during the day, and then maybe stimulants as well to keep alert during the night.

          Your son will have extra temptations almost every day as a doctor. He will have to be very careful to not fall back into addiction.

          Meanwhile, your current problem is to support him in his battle against Ritalin. It sounds like you are doing a great job – and your son as well.

          I wish you strength and a good outcome for yourself and your son. I’m sure everyone reading your comment here will be praying for you and your son, and wishing you both a brighter future.

          Keep strong, and keep in touch, Safiah. I’m sure we would all like to hear that your son has triumphed over his addiction and is all set for a successful career in the future.

  3. So thankful and greatful for your reply and help. I will definately try and find Support Grroup for Families.

  4. My son did 30 days at a rehab center in California and unfortunately he seemed to have relapsed should we find another rehab center I’m so confused I don’t know what to do anymore !but I def would like to find a support group in my area .thanks we are hoping and praying for our son ;(

    • Oh dear, Gizzy – having someone close to you develop an addiction is very tough. And as if that wasn’t hard enough, most Rehab programs charge a fortune too.

      On the plus side, your son has at least agreed to go to Rehab once already. That is already one positive achievement. I expect that you both feel his relapse is discouraging, and it is.

      Unfortunately many people, maybe even most people, have relapses on their path out of addiction.

      It is the nature of addiction that it never goes away – it can only be resisted and managed. And that is amazingly difficult to do. Many people find that one stint of Rehab is not enough.

      I think that your plan to find a Support Group in your area is a great one. Check out the links I’ve put in ‘Who Do I Call’ at the top of each Page. There will probably be a help line for your area, listed there.

      Also check with local doctors and hospitals to ask about support groups.

      Also try searching online for AA or NA branches near you – even if alcohol is not your son’s problem they will give support, and probably know all about the services available in your area.

      If you attend a Church, there might be people there who will know about local support groups.

      If all else fails, start your own! If you can’t find any Support Group locally, I can guarantee you, there will be other people nearby who are also searching for a Support Group, just like you are.

      It doesn’t matter if they (or you) have no special qualifications – you (and they) have experience. You can share problems and find support from others who understand better than anyone, how hard it is to see loved ones suffer with addiction.

      Support Groups really do help to make life easier.

      Recovery is possible, and hopefully your son will be able to find a way to manage his addiction.

      Your son has one huge advantage: someone who cares about him – you!

      So stay strong, Gizzy, and I wish you and you son, well.

  5. My 18yr son had been in halfway house clean from heroine for six months our relationship was best ever been one week ago he hook back up with his gf who is also addict an dealer an relapse leaving the center my heart broken my anger is uncontrollable an we fight constantly I want him out my home cuz of the lying an fighting what do I do

    • Hello Renee, I’m so sorry that your son has started using heroin again. That must be so devastating for you after you were beginning to hope that things could work out ok for your son and your family. Of course I cannot know how you are feeling right now, but I can try to imagine how disappointed and angry you must feel. It must be truly awful.

      Sad to say, relapse after some time in successful recovery is almost to be expected with addiction. I don’t suppose that this hard fact helps much, when you are facing it in real life and in your own home.

      I cannot really tell you what you should do, because I don’t know you or your family personally, but I do advise you to get some sort of face to face help for yourself.

      This could be a help line, a local NA or similar group, or people that you know locally. If you are able to talk to someone who understands all the difficulties you are experiencing, that can really help you to sort out what you should do.

      That said, you are not responsible for decisions that other people make, for example, your son. You can try to help him, if you want to, but he may or may not ‘appreciate’ that at the moment. You cannot stop him taking drugs if that is what he wants to do at the moment.

      You can try to persuade him to get help for himself, but you must expect that he might refuse to do that.

      At that point, you have some decisions to make, but hopefully with the support of other people who know what is going on in your house. If you want your son out of your house, you are not a bad person.

      You cannot give endless support (real life support like food and somewhere to live) if he is abusing the privilege of living with you and causing you extreme distress. Sometimes you have to lay down limitations on what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

      But you need to talk to someone if this is what you decide to do – you will need support during this time.

      Sometimes it is only when support such as money, a place to live, is withdrawn, that an addict realizes he has to go back into rehab. If anyone is abusing you in your home, you have a right to stop it from happening. But please, get some support for yourself at this time, whatever you decide to do.

      And let us know how you go. Stay strong Renee, and I’m sure that everyone here at Addiction Rehab Now, is concerned for you (and your son), and is wishing you well.

  6. hi , i have been out of a 90 day intensive rehab for 10 days and have relapsed, thankyou for your article it has given me hope,, i am a survivor who plans to keep battling this addiction it is a sly cunning horrible disease to battle. any advise would be gr8. meth is my drug of choice and have used for 20+ yrs, i am very determined and was a star pupil in the hab…. I went back to an old enviroment and bang gone. I had been acting out for a week leading up to this. I think i saw it coming and just gave in. I am doing na & aa meetings they are gr8, but I am in a rural area and the rehab was in the city so meetings are smaller, I am having trouble finding a sponsor and i am not reaching out. Back to old behaviours (trying to solve all my problems which i clearly cant do on my own)!!!! I hope that just writting this gives me strenghth as i have not been journelling since leaving rehab either so thanks for listening and good luck to anyone else battling this cunning disease ,,,,…..

    • Hi Habian, it sounds like you are really determined to fight your addiction. I think it can be difficult for anyone who is not addicted to understand how determination, and good intentions is sometimes not enough – addiction is a really tough opponent that never gives up. Yes, living in rural areas can make it harder to get support and help.

      Don’t give up hope, and I wish there was more that I could do – I’m afraid you fell into the trap of going back to the same old environment you were in before rehab, but sometimes there is no where else to go – that makes it extra tough.

      Addiction is indeed a cunning disease – it knows all the tricks and all our weaknesses – we all have weaknesses, but if you have an addiction, it is always hunting them out, and trying to make you give it what it wants.

      I really hope you find the support you need and also a sponsor who can help you. I’m sure all our readers are thinking of you and willing you to be strong.


  7. your article was great very informative.I have read so much about cory monteith and since I knew him for a very short period of time in Nanaimo that I thought it was all his friends who abandoned him in vancouver with no support but I now realize more that something triggered his relapse after just coming out of the 2nd time in rehab, i do believe that he should not have been in Vancouver alone and something happened to set him off and I suspect that as per an article I read tonight that a friend of his know to do drugs got him hooked again as u say only takes 1 thing to get started again but I think if he had had someone with him he would still be alive. I still find it hard to believe someone so young and so much to look forward to is gone. God Bless you Cory we love you

    • Thanks for your comment Leo – so true – so many ways to relapse, and it only takes one to do the damage. Having a Buddy system like in AA can be a life-saver, but Buddies cannot always be there when they are needed. Such a pity. It is so important to recognize High risk situations, and avoid them before the temptation opportunity becomes available.

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