Drugs With The Highest Rates Of Relapse

Drugs With The Highest Rates Of Relapse

Stress, gender and exposure to drug-related stimuli serve as major risk factors in the initiation of drug abuse, but can also greatly increase the likelihood of relapse for recovering addicts. While these and other risk factors serve as major obstacles for individuals struggling to overcome alcohol and drug addiction, certain drugs prove significantly more difficult for avoiding relapse.

Relapse After Drug Abstinence

Relapse is recognized as the resumption of drug or alcohol use following a prolonged period of abstinence. Drugs with the highest rates of relapse include heroin, alcohol and crack cocaine. According to “Relapse & Recovery: Behavioral Strategies for Change," a research report by the Caron Foundation, rates of relapse vary from 50 percent returning to heavy use, to 90 percent experiencing brief relapse.


A highly addictive opiate drug, heroin is recognized as having a relapse rate of 87 percent after drug treatment. Particularly for chronic users who have become chemically dependent on the drug, heroin cravings have been known to exist for years after treatment.

Exposure to stress or people, places and things associated with the drug’s use can increase the chances of relapse. Fortunately, a variety of effective behavioral and medical treatments are available for heroin addiction to avoid relapse. In addition to methadone, used for over 30 years to treat heroin addiction, Bureprenorphine has more recently proven to be effective in reducing withdrawal symptoms and preventing relapse.


Alcohol recovery often incurs an extremely high relapse rate of 86 percent, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), with individuals returning to dependency within five years of alcohol recovery programs.

While relapse is quite common for those struggling with alcohol addiction, maintaining continual care through addiction counseling can help prevent chronic relapse. Addressing the environmental triggers that might lead to a relapse of alcohol use, such as mental health, lifestyle, family and friends, can aid in the recovery process and help to avoid the chances of relapse.

Crack Cocaine

With a relapse rate of 84 percent, crack vastly outnumbers cocaine (55 percent) for individuals returning to use following drug treatment. Crack is cocaine hydrochloride powder processed to form a rock crystal that is typically cheaper and more accessible than pure cocaine.

The highly addictive nature of crack cocaine focuses primarily on the brain’s reward system, which can lead to long-term effects of persistent cravings and a high risk of relapse. Currently there are no FDA-approved medications to treat crack cocaine addiction, which makes behavioral intervention and ongoing addiction counseling vital to maintaining abstinence and avoiding relapse.

Developing A New, Healthy Lifestyle

Relapse rates can vary depending on a variety of factors; including type of drug, severity of addiction and length of treatment, as well as lifestyle and behavioral changes made by the recovering addict. Maintaining treatment and support through recovery programs and therapy, and working to develop a healthier lifestyle can greatly reduce the likelihood of relapse.

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