A research study out of California State University has recently identified potential relapse risk factors for alcoholics in twelve-step programs.
A research project (impressively enough, for a graduate student’s master’s thesis), has recently been published that investigated factors that may place an alcoholic in a twelve-step program at risk for relapsing. By identifying such factors, the aim of the research was to help social workers and addiction treatment professionals to better assist recovering alcoholics on the road to recovery. The relatively small sample studied included eight men and women currently at a rehab facility in California, who had completed a twelve step program and subsequently relapsed. (The wording, of course, is from the author- as anyone in a twelve step program knows, the work is never “completed”- you can work all 12 steps, but the work continues, and living the steps in your everyday life is essential to lasting sobriety. But, I digress). Participant involvement was on a volunteer basis, and entailed 20-30 minute interviews with the following 10 questions (Hernandez, 2016):
- Did you complete your first twelve-step program? If so, when (month and year)?
- What type of home did you reside in at the time of relapse, for example was it an apartment, house, relative’s home or friend’s home?
- How were you feeling at the time of your relapse?
- Were you employed at the time of your relapse?
- What was your marital status when you relapsed? For example were you single, married, divorced, separated or widowed?
- Do you have any children under the age of eighteen years old? If yes, who is the primary caretaker of the children?
- What do you believe caused you to relapse after you completed your first twelve-step program and why?
- Who did you contact after your relapse? Why did you contact that individual(s)?
- How do you feel about the twelve-step program you completed? What tools, ideas, or influences did you receive from the twelve-step program?
- Do you feel supported? If yes, from whom and why? If not, why?
Based on participant responses, the researcher was able to identify key factors commonly involved in their relapses. The first of which was a lack of commitment to therapy. None of the participants relapsed while still engaged in regular therapy sessions and actively working a program. Another factor identified was unemployment. Financial stress, as well as perceived judgment from society, make unemployment a risk factor for returning to alcohol. Availability of healthy support was also a factor- the respondents noted lack of support from family, friends, and their community as distressing enough to trigger their relapse. Finally, the stigma of addiction made it difficult for the addicts to seek treatment. To the respondents, it felt like a weakness or something that others would judge them for.
While there is no “recipe for relapse,” it is certainly enlightening to learn of factors that may increase the odds. And while these factors may certainly contribute, as mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as “completion” of a twelve step program. Ask any person with long term recovery in a twelve step program, and they will likely tell you they continue to work the steps every day, try to carry the principles out in their words and actions, and continue to seek and develop their relationship with a higher power.
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