Why is Addiction Recovery So Hard?

Woman and waterfall

With a marriage on the rocks and a broken relationship with his two sons, Dennis knew he needed help. But like so many in the thralls of addiction, it took an “aha moment” to get there. His wife bravely confronted him with an ultimatum – the alcohol or his family. This wasn’t a tough choice for Dennis. He was ready to get sober and get into addiction recovery.

And so begins the road to addiction recovery. The sad reality is that between 40 to 60 percent of addicts will relapse [1]. And although there are no solid statistics on the average number of times relapse occurs, we know it’s not uncommon to knock on rehab’s door several times before finding success.

The path to addiction recovery, especially for extended abuse of drugs or alcohol, is a long and winding road.

The Hard Facts of Addiction and Addiction Recovery

Once the exit doors of a drug and alcohol treatment facility open, recovery is never a one-size-fits-all model.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) offers this definition of recovery from alcohol and drug abuse: “A process of change through which an individual achieves abstinence and improved health, wellness and quality of life [3].”

Even those like Dennis who are fully committed to rebuilding their lives and repairing relationships are fighting an uphill battle when you consider these facts:

1. Addiction is a Chronic Disease

Like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, addiction is a chronic disease. It can be controlled, but not cured.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse states, “About 25 to 50% of people with a substance use problem appear to have a severe, chronic disorder. For them, addiction is a progressive, relapsing disease that requires intensive treatments and continuing aftercare, monitoring and family or peer support to manage their recovery.”

And like other chronic disorders, addiction is a result of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. A family history of addiction accounts for around half the likelihood an individual will also struggle with addiction [5].

2. The Brain Has Changed

Plain and simple, people abuse drugs and alcohol because it feels good. When people abuse opiates like heroin or oxycodone (Oxycotin/Percocet) or stimulants like Adderall, the brain gets a surge of dopamine, which activates the pleasure and reward center of the brain. The problem is, the user is creating a vicious cycle.

Woman walking path while in Addiction RecoveryThe dopamine levels released by some drugs are 2 to 10 times higher than natural rewards, such as eating or sex. The brain craves more and more. Eventually, the user’s brain produces less dopamine to compensate for the overwhelming surges it has experienced with drug use.

The drug user now feels low, depressed, and relies heavily on those highs from drugs just to function in daily activities. This makes recovery even more difficult because the user has now altered their brain. And the effects are long-lasting [4].

3. Co-Occurring Mental Health Issues Still Exist

SAMHSA reported in 2014 that almost 8 million Americans suffer co-occurring disorders with their substance abuse, meaning that they also have an underlying mental health disorder, such as depression, PTSD or bipolar disorder.

Integrated treatment that addresses all issues is essential for recovery. Historically, treatment facilities did a poor job at treating co-occurring disorders. Today’s experts however agree that recovery involves a healing of the mind, body and spirit. [6]

Support System and Circle of Friends

Another reason addiction recovery can be tough is, very often, the addict’s social circle must completely change. If the entire relationship with a person or group of friends involved drug or alcohol use, it’s best to avoid these encounters so the temptation to use again is lowered.

Victorious mountain biker

This is a tough thing to do and many fall back into bad habits quickly. It is key that a person in recovery surround themselves with a positive support system and stay in contact with their sponsor or other post-treatment therapists or recovery coaches.

Many drug and alcohol treatment facilities connect alumni through technology and on-site activities so patients can reunite and know they are not alone during recovery.

Dennis was determined to get his life back and found healing through family and faith. He met some challenges along the path to recovery like so many do, but has been sober for nine years.

Addiction recovery is hard. Addiction recovery is ongoing. But addiction recovery is possible.

About the Author:

Nikki BakerNikki Baker joined JourneyPure as a Content Writer in April 2017. She is responsible for social media, website and blog content that both informs the public about the addiction crisis in this country and recognizes JourneyPure as a leader in addiction treatment.

She began her career at The Nashville City Paper as an Education Reporter, covering Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, writing both news and feature articles. The bulk of her career has been spent in nonprofit. Prior to joining JourneyPure, served 13 years at PENCIL Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to link community resources with Nashville public schools. Throughout her tenure, she held roles in program management, partnership and volunteer recruitment and management as well as communications management.

Nikki graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts, journalism from Belmont University in Nashville. She is originally from upstate NY but has lived in the Nashville area since 1992. She enjoys spending time with her 13-year-old daughter and their two dogs.


[1]: Beating the Relapse Statistics, Retrieved May 18, 2017, http://alcoholrehab.com/addiction-recovery/beating-the-relapse-statistics/
[2]: Dennis’ story retrieved from https://journeypure.com/recovery/dennis/
[3]: SAMHSA’s 10 Rules for a Successful Recovery, Retrieved May 18, 2017: http://www.choosehelp.com/topics/recovery/samhsa2019s-10-rules-for-a-successful-recovery
[4]: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved from The National Institute on Drug Abuse May 18, 2017: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain
[5]: The Disease Model of Addiction. Retrieved May 18, 2017 https://www.centeronaddiction.org/what-addiction/addiction-disease
[6]: Statistics on Drug Addiction, Retrieved May 18, 2017 from American Addiction Centers http://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on June 5, 2017.
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 26, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.