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What Percentage of Addicts Stay Sober?

It’s common to hear about celebrity overdose deaths that occurred after a stint in rehab, such as Tom Petty and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hearing about their death after having been in rehab makes one wonder what percentage of addicts stay sober and just how effective drug rehab really is? In this article, we will discuss addiction recovery statistics and why some people relapse after years of sobriety.

5 Minute Read | Published Oct 02 2023 | Updated Mar 09 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Ashley Bayliss
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Ashley Bayliss
Reviewed by

Long-Term Sobriety: What Percentage of Addicts Stay Sober?

Click here to learn the 3 essential tips for relapse prevention.

Addiction Recovery Statistics

What percentage of addicts stay sober? It’s an important question to ask since addiction can be a life-threatening condition, and treatment is by no means cheap – as with most chronic disease treatments.

So, what percentage of addicts stay sober? It’s a difficult question to answer cause there aren’t studies that look at the truly long-term sobriety statistics. According to an eight-year study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) that looked at almost 1,200 addicts, the following information came to light:

  • Roughly 33 percent of recovering addicts in their first year will remain clean and sober.
  • Once a recovering addict is sober for more than a year, the likelihood of continued abstinence increases to around 50 percent.
  • After the 5-year mark, 85 percent of recovering addicts stay clean.

What these statistics reveal is that cases where people relapse after decades of sobriety are rare.

What Percentage of Addicts Stay Sober in Early Recovery?

So, what percentage of addicts relapse after treatment in their first year? The first year of sobriety is seen as the most difficult as it has the highest relapse rates. A study published on the JAMA Network in 2000 looked at how many people relapsed within the first year of recovery. What percentage of addicts relapse after treatment? According to the study, between 40 and 60 percent on newly recovering addicts will have a relapse in the first 12 months of their recovery.

Why Are the Odds of Staying Sober After Rehab So Low?

It’s can be difficult to connect statements by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stating that those who get treatment and remain in treatment have greatly reduced drug and alcohol use, increased work productivity, better social function, and an improved psychological health with the studies that reveal around half of the addicts will relapse in their first year.

So, why are the odds of staying sober after rehab so low? The answer lies in the characteristics of addiction. It is classified as a relapsing disease, and NIDA states that it may take several interventions and treatment plans before long-term sobriety is achieved. Relapse is therefore considered common, which is shown through the various studies such as the previously-mentioned JAMA study and the eight-year study.

In the end, it may take an individual several attempts before they finally get their addiction under control.

Myth: Treatment Failure Due to Relapse

When a person relapses after treatment, it’s common for people to consider the treatment a failure; however, this is not the case. Relapse does not mean treatment is ineffective or has failed.

The best way to understand why is to look at other chronic diseases that have similar rates of relapse. Hypertension, for example, has similar relapse rates (50 to 70 percent), and while being actively treated, the patient will have reduced symptoms. However, if the treatment stops, then symptoms will also return. Addiction treatment is much the same way, and abandoning treatment, not partaking in aftercare programs and plans, or not spending enough time in treatment can result in addiction symptoms returning.

Why Do So Many People Relapse?

A common question is why so many people relapse after treatment. How can someone with a good life put their life at risk for a short-lived experience? A part of the answer lies in how drugs affects the brain.

When a substance is abused, it’s usually always for the rush or high it produces. Many of these highs are linked to effects that the drug has on the “feel-good” and reward chemicals in our brain. Substance abuse can cause your brain to rewire itself, and this ultimately leads to the brain placing the rewards from substance abuse above even their own survival. With this in mind, it can make sense why some people would risk it all for another dose.

Another part of the puzzle lies in the relapse prevention plan and support programs that addicts must use after rehab. Relapse prevention skills and plans are designed to:

  • Help the addict recognize relapse signs and triggers.
  • Give the addict tools to deal with overwhelming cravings and emotions.
  • Help the addict to have contingencies for when they are being overwhelmed by their emotions or are considering relapse, such as reaching out to someone.
  • Create a schedule that helps keep them in support groups and on track with their sobriety.

However, after months and even years of following such a plan, some recovering people may feel that they don’t need it anymore as they become more confident. This can be their downfall. As mentioned before, if treatment and management of an addiction ceases, then, like other chronic diseases, symptoms can return. Therefore, overconfidence is another one of the causes of relapse.

Why Is Relapse After Treatment So Dangerous?

One of the riskiest times to overdose is after a period of sobriety. As a person uses drugs or alcohol repeatedly, their tolerance builds. A tolerance refers to the diminished effect that a substance has on a person due to the changes that occur in their body and brain. In essence, the more of a substance a person abuses, the more tolerant they will become to the effects, which causes them to have to increase their dosage.

The dangers of relapse after treatment is that the person’s tolerance, after a detoxification, has been lowered completely. This means that if they use as much as they used before, then their body isn’t prepared and accidental overdose becomes a very real possibility.

Is Rehab Worth It?

Rehab remains the best way to reduce and stop substance abuse, improve work and school productivity, and improve mental and social function. While it may take some time before one gets an addiction completely under control, life-long management of the disease is possible.

If you would like to know more, or would like to find a rehab or aftercare program in your area, then call Better Addiction Care today at (800) 429-7690, or use the geo-search feature available.


bullet National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
"Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide – Third Edition"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
"Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet American Addiction Centers
"Long-Term Addiction Recovery Rates and Statistics"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet National Institutes of Health (NIH)
"Treatment Statistics"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023
bullet Recovery Research Institute
"Addiction Treatment Outcomes: What Do We Know?"
Retrieved on June 28, 2023

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