Are the 12 Steps Useful if I Relapse?

“As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychohygienic efforts regarding prisoners.”

Victor E. Frankl said the quote above in his deeply insightful 1946 book, Man’s Search For Meaning, where he wrote about his human experience in a German concentration camp. He was recalling Nietsche’s words which he used to extoll the need for a renewable source of inner strength if we are to overcome any adversity.

For alcoholics, the need to reform and quit is often overshadowed by the relief inside a bottle. The act of relapsing is so common that it has come to be accepted by some as part of the recovery journey rather than a total failure. 

Data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows that approximately 90% of people with alcoholism (any drinking that results in significant health/mental problems) relapse four years after treatment.

Another long-term 16-year study by the National Library of medicine followed alcoholism sufferers who had received help/treatment as opposed to those who had not. They discovered high relapse rates (60.5 %) in the no help group as opposed to a relapse percentage of 42.9% in the group that had received help (AA and/or Treatment).

Studies conclude that seeking help does heighten the chances of a full recovery though other factors do play a role in whether or not someone will be able to prop themselves back up. Over the short term, social capital – a healthy connection to society – is a good indicator of the likelihood that someone will recover. 

On the other hand, a lack of education/ low employment/poverty leads to stress factors that greatly inhibit the chances of long-term recovery. Terence T. Gorski, a substance abuse expert, sees relapse as a “series of individual problems exacerbated by negative situations.”

A healthier way to consider relapse is to see it as any other failure, an opportunity to re-examine the path that led you down this road again and develop strategies and mechanisms that will lead to long-term recovery. Even an ugly, meandering, start-stop path is progress.

It is normal to despair after failure. It takes hope, will, and courage to keep moving after a fall. It is easier to sustain a forward movement when you have a wall of friends and treatment options to fall back on. Visit the site for Impact Recovery Center ( where you can find a resource that doesn’t just focus on removing the drug but also on strengthening the inner Spirit through using sound AA principles and focusing on long-term support solutions.

If you have suffered a relapse, don’t wallow. Attending 12-step meetings with regular frequency, even daily, can help stop that stumble from being a rolling fall. The skills and community you gain from attending are as valid as they were when you first participated, and they will be as helpful in this time.

Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris: A passionate educator dedicated to inspiring learning through creativity and technology. Making education engaging and accessible for all.

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