A Message of Hope at Christmas – We Do Recover!!

I have heard various statistics about rates of recovery of the years, especially in AA. Some of the figures were depressing low and often go unchallenged which can be demotivating for those seeking recovery.

Why AAs in particular spread distorted statistics which suggest hardly any one recovers is open to question?

Out of all the people I know who were in treatment before me and in the group after me, as well as with me and who completed the entire course of treatment most of them, i.e. a high majority of at least 3/4s, are still in recovery.

This suggests to me that those who seek treatment, whether 12 step based treatment or via taking the steps, with fearlessness and honesty, do actually recover long term. So why is this sort of statistic not well know?

There can be no greater motivation to recover than knowing that the vast majority of people who do engage in treatment do actually recover! 

I recently came across an excellent article on this by Dr. Omar Manejwala,  former Medical Director for Hazelden Foundation, one of the nations oldest and largest addiction centers in the US.

I will quote from his blog here.

“…the recent tragic overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, whom many have noted was reportedly abstinent from alcohol and drugs for over two decades, raises another set of important questions:

  • Do people who get sober actually stay sober?

  • Can’t you ever be free of addiction? Are you always at risk of relapse?

  • Is there some period when, like cancer, you are considered to be “cured”?

  • Isn’t staying sober for a long time at least somewhat protective?

In my experience treating thousands of addicts, I’ve learned that cases like these can often diminish hope and create a perception that these conditions aren’t treatable, or that addicts can never be trusted.

When is an addict or alcoholic sober long enough to be considered at least relatively safe? Do most people with addiction who have been sober a long time eventually relapse?  In scientific terms, what is the natural history of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction?

I’ve seen numerous experts speak up in the wake of Hoffman’s death, but few have offered hard science on what we really know about how a person’s duration of sobriety is related to their chances of being sober in the subsequent years. Fortunately, there are data to support the idea that recovery is durable, and that the vast majority of people who stay sober for a long time will continue to stay sober afterwards.

The most thorough attempt to understand what happens to addicts and alcoholics who stay sober is an eight-year study of nearly 1200 addicts. They were able to follow up on over 94% of the study participants, and they found that extended abstinence really does predict long term recovery. Some takeaways from this research are:

  • Only about a third of people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent.

  • For those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half will relapse.

  • If you can make it to 5 years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15 percent.


Of course, there are many people with 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years of abstinence…. My experience is that people with decades of abstinence clearly can and do relapse, but the incidence is very low. Like Hoffman and many others, it’s always heartbreaking when it happens. I’ve seen it triggered by opiate prescriptions, acute pain and other life stressors. Often the people who relapse have stopped engaging in the recovery-oriented practices that served them well during their earlier sobriety.

Every death from addiction is tragic. But cases like Hoffman’s are definitely the exception and not the rule.”

Copyright Omar Manejwala, M.D. 2013.






Dennis, M. L., Foss, M. A., & Scott, C. K. (2007). An eight-year perspective on the relationship between the duration of abstinence and other aspects of recovery. Evaluation Review, 31(6), 585-612.


  1. lucy2610 · December 18, 2014

    Went to Drugs and Alcohol day within local organisation (health) and even the DAT workers say that it is a chronically relapsing condition with a 20% success rate. When they say it it doesn’t give me much hope I have to say!! Merry Xmas Paul 🙂

    • alcoholicsguide · December 18, 2014

      as I mentioned in my email – I go on my own experience and that which corroborates that experience not on other’s experience of recovery and not DAT workers. If one gives everything to recovery, they will recover, that is my experience. The difficulty with stats like the one you quote is that it is based on a different set of criteria.

      • lucy2610 · December 18, 2014

        We need to get that message across to the DAT workers then as if that’s what they tell their clients what hope do they have in feeling that recovery is possible?!

      • alcoholicsguide · December 18, 2014

        the truth for me and others is that we got to AA after trying everything else that society and the NHS etc offer plus psychiatry and counselling etc – the solution came from other alcoholics helping this alcoholic and then passing this on.

      • lucy2610 · December 18, 2014

        Wow – that’s so saddening that conventional approaches failed you and others. No wonder the DAT workers say what they say then!! Peer led recovery programmes are going to revolutionise DAT services then 😉

      • alcoholicsguide · December 18, 2014

        DAT workers work within a model of recovery which fails many addicts – AA revolutionised treatment nearly eighty years ago – I am just adding to this awareness by explaining how it works in a manner that encourages more people to consider and understand it a bit more – to erase some of the barriers to it – there is so much negative bias in the UK about 12 step recovery. I consider everything that works 12 step as well as other theories and approaches and combine them into a framework for understanding addiction and recovery in a rational manner in the the hope people like myself can find the solution to their problems and recover as I have. There is hope abundant if one really looks for it.

  2. Tosh · December 18, 2014

    If we do recover, then why do you describe yourself as recovering? Yeh, I know it’s an old argument, and you can guess from my question which side of the fence I’m on. But really, why ‘recovering’? Don’t you think that gives of negative connotations about your recovery, yet this latest blog (I love your blog btw) says we can recover, which infers recovered.

    • alcoholicsguide · December 18, 2014

      I am recovered, i.e. I have been restored to sanity. However aspects of my life, damaged by 25 years of drinking, continue to recover, personally, in terms of relationships, family, in terms of community, society . Hence one and one’s life is still in recovery, although spiritually and emotionally “recovered”. Impairment to brain function also continues to recover. Neural networks also continue to recover, as do stress systems, neurotransmission, structural functionality and connectivity of brain regions. My newly restored sanity enables me to manage my addictive behaviours, a choice I did not seem to have before. My new sane behaviours continue to effect my recovery. I have not been cured merely given the tools to treat my underlying condition. Hope this helps. Paul

      • Tosh · December 18, 2014

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Paul, and I look forward to reading your future submissions.

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