If anything, the science on relapses is even more slippery. (We do know that relapse rates for drug and alcohol addiction are comparable to people’s inability to control other chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.) The challenges are as basic as agreeing on a definition for long-term sobriety. In a graphic titled “Extended Abstinence is Predictive of Sustained Recovery,” the National Institute of Drug Abuse says, “After 5 years—if you are sober, you will probably stay that way.” I unconsciously added a “forever” to the end of that sentence—but the study that chart is based on ran for eight years, a bar Hoffman cleared easily.
My first attempt at recovery came in 1991, when I was 19 years old. Almost exactly two years later, I decided to have a drink. Two years after that, I was addicted to heroin. There’s a lot we don’t know about alcoholism and drug addiction, but one thing is clear: Regardless of how much time clean you have, relapsing is always as easy as moving your hand to your mouth.
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