Does Having a Relapse Mean I Have to Start the 12 Steps Over?

According to a study from the US Department of Veteran Affairs, substance use disorder patients “have high rates of post-treatment relapse and additional episodes of specialized care.” Attending self-help groups, like those that utilize the twelve-step method “may improve the likelihood of achieving and maintaining remission” and avoiding relapse. However, the issue still does occur for some individuals, even those who are already in the middle of their twelve-step process.

What If I’ve Started the Steps Already? Do I Have to Start Over?

Many wonder about this exact scenario and worry about having to start all the way over from the beginning. What if you are on the fourth or fifth step and you suddenly relapse? Will you have to start over with step one again?

The truth is, yes, you will have to start the steps over again. The twelve steps are in order for a reason and experiencing a relapse does change your situation drastically. However, it does not mean you failed at your recovery or that you are starting over completely from the beginning.

The Journey of the Twelve Steps

Having a Relapse

You should restart the 12 steps if you relapse, remembering that the goal is to recover, not just to finish the program.

The first step of AA is to “admit you are powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable” (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Though you may have admitted this already in the past, you will need to look at this and see the truth in it once again. A relapse is a loss of control and, though it can be hard, you will need to spend time looking at yourself again and remembering why you decided to stop drinking or using drugs in the first place.

As you go through the program, you will learn things about yourself, about your substance abuse, and about your recovery. Many of these things cannot be unlearned because of a relapse, so you will still be wiser than you were beforehand. You can take what you’ve learned from your first attempt at the program and apply it when you begin again after your relapse.

But I Was Close to Finishing the Twelve Steps…

It is important to always remember that the goal of your recovery is not to complete the twelve steps but to overcome your addiction to alcohol, drugs, or other substances and create a better life for yourself. You shouldn’t see completing the steps as more important than having a strong and stable recovery that allows you to stay abstinent from substances and live your life the way you deserve.

Many individuals who go through this type of mutual-help program do not feel that they ever actually finish the steps themselves but that they are always revisiting them. Whether you are helping someone new through the program or simply realizing there is another piece to the puzzle of your recovery, you deserve to be able to return to the steps themselves, especially if you can gain more from them. Remember, even though getting to the twelfth step is in itself a form of accomplishment, your recovery is the ultimate goal of the program.

How 12 Step Programs Deal with Recovery and Relapse

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