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relapse rates of addiction vs chronic illnesses.
May 30, 2017

Addiction Relapse Rates Compared to Those for Other Chronic Illnesses

relapse rates of addiction vs chronic illnesses.The fact that addiction is a chronic disease characterized by relapse isn’t a license for despair. On the contrary, take a look at how addiction stacks up next to other chronic diseases, and you’ll be encouraged to seek help (if you haven’t already):

When a loved one, family member or friend is struggling with addiction, the see-saw journey of recovery often seems fraught with disappointment, setbacks, relapse and recommitting to sobriety. It may seem an impossible goal for the addicted individual to get and stay sober. Yet addiction is a chronic relapsing disease, just like cancer, hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Knowledge of addiction relapse rates as comparable to other chronic illness relapse rates may provide a ray of hope that effective recovery is possible.


Relapse rates for drug addiction are comparable to those for other chronic relapsing diseases. According to a 2014 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) rates of relapse for drug addiction range from 40 to 60 percent.

Relapse rates among those with alcohol addiction were just over 40 percent among those who sought treatment and initially remitted in one study, and 51 percent in asymptomatic risk drinkers who had experienced a recurrence of alcohol use disorder (AUD) symptoms in a Wave 2 study.

Addiction to opiates carries an 85 percent chance of relapse one year after stopping usage.

Crack cocaine is an extremely addictive substance. Users who become addicted face high relapse rates that in one study of adolescent crack users ranged from 66 to 86 percent.

Methamphetamine, specifically crystal meth, is notoriously addictive. Chronic use can lead to not only addiction, but also devastating effects. Meth relapse rate is extremely high at 93 percent. This is due, in part, to prolonged intense cravings for the drug and difficult withdrawal symptoms.


An infographic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 29.1 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. That’s one in 11 people with the chronic disease. Another 86 million – one of three adults – have prediabetes, and 15 to 30 percent of those with prediabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes within a 5-year period. Relapse rates for type 1 diabetes, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), are between 30 and 50 percent.

A multisite study of long-term remission and relapse in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus after gastric bypass found that 35.1 percent redeveloped diabetes within 5 years. Significant predictors of relapse were identified as poor glycemic control prior to surgery for gastric bypass, insulin use and longer duration of diabetes. Relapse can occur after bariatric surgery if weight is regained.


About 75 million adults in America have high blood pressure, or hypertension. It’s significant that anyone can develop hypertension, which greatly increases the risk for both heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., while stroke is the third leading cause of death.

Information published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that relapse rates for hypertension are between 50 and 70 percent.


About 22 million Americans have asthma. Like hypertension, relapse rates for asthma range from 50 to 70 percent. Studies have shown that the chronic disease of asthma is more prevalent in Western nations than Eastern countries, has both early and late onset age characteristics, and a heterogenous course of disease development and progression. As one study of participants in Taiwan noted, after onset of the disease, this may include persistence, complete remission, and back and forth between relapse and remission. This same study found a 52 percent relapse rate in early-onset asthma (defined as onset over 12 years of age). Authors noted that this was a higher relapse rate than other longitudinal studies that were conducted in New Zealand and Europe.


A cancer diagnosis used to be considered a death sentence. A 2014 study estimated that the number of Americans with a history of cancer still alive in 2024 will be 19 million, compared with nearly 14.5 million in 2014. With more life-saving medications, treatments and interventions, along with lifestyle adjustments and other behavioral therapies, however, life expectancy for cancer patients has significantly increased. Still, cancer is a chronic disease. It also manifests in many different forms, each with unique characteristics, stages, prospects for complete or partial remission, and recurrence or relapse.

Statistics on relapse rates for a few forms of cancer:

  • Breast cancer: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a noninvasive breast cancer. Left untreated, 40 to 50 percent of DCIS cases may progress to invasive breast cancer.
  • Colon cancer: According to data from the American Cancer Society, five-year survival rates for the various stages of colon cancer range from 92 percent (Stage I) to 6 percent (Stage IV). The National Cancer Institute says that while surgery, the primary form of treatment, results in a cure 50 percent of the time, recurrence after surgery for colon cancer is a major problem that often results in death.
  • Prostate cancer: Recurrence (relapse) of those with prostate cancer is 20 to 30 percent at some point during their lives. Encouragingly, some 94 percent survive at least 15 years after their initial prostate cancer diagnosis.
  • Melanoma: This form of cancer, also called melanoma skin cancer, is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma recurs in more than 6 percent of patients after 10 years, occurring in more than one in 20 patients.


The recognition that addiction is a chronic relapsing disease with relapse rates comparable to those of other chronic illnesses offers much hope to those suffering with addiction. With proper treatment, behavior modifications, lifestyle changes, vigilance and support, those in addiction can go on to live fulfilling, productive lives. Addiction is never a one and done episode. Often, multiple stays in treatment are necessary before the individual seeking to overcome addiction gains a firm foundation and footing in recovery. That many do is a testament to both their resolve, faith and adherence to evidence-based strategies for maintaining long-term sobriety. In the event they do relapse, there’s a proven approach that can help them get back on the path to sobriety.


American Cancer Society, “What is cancer recurrence?” Retrieved May 1, 2017

American College of Surgeons, “Melanoma Recurs After 10 Years In More than 6 Percent of Patients.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

American Diabetes Association, “Infographic: A Snapshot of Diabetes in America.” Retrieved April 30, 2017

BioMed Central, Respiratory Research, “Asthma incidence, remission, relapse and persistence: a population-based study in southern Taiwan.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, “Cancer treatment and survivorship statistics, 2014.” [Wiley Online] Retrieved May 1, 2017

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “High Blood Pressure Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).” Retrieved April 30, 2017

Diabetes Forecast, “Is Type 2 Diabetes Reversible?” Retrieved April 30, 2017

Everyday Health, “Understanding Addiction Relapse.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

HuffPost, “Memory-Erasing Drug May Help Prevent Meth Addicts From Relapsing.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

Moffit Cancer Center, “Prostate Cancer Recurrence.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, “Colon Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)-Health Professional Version.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Addiction, “Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research [PubMed], “Rates and correlates of relapse among individuals in remission from DSM-IV alcohol dependence: a 3-year follow-up.”

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Journal of Addictive Diseases [PubMed], “Predictors of early release among adolescent crack users.” Retrieved April 29, 2017

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” “Drug Abuse and Addiction.” Retrieved April 29, 2017

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Media Guide, “The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics.” Retrieved April 29, 2017

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition),” “How effective is drug addiction treatment?” Retrieved April 22, 2017

Obesity Surgery, “A Multisite Study of Long-term Remission and Relapse of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Following Gastric Bypass.” [SpringerLink] Retrieved April 30, 2017

Susan G. Komen, “Treatment for DCIS.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

The JAMA Network, “Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” Retrieved April 30, 2017

UC Davis Health, “Brain functions that can prevent relapse improve after a year of methamphetamine abstinence.” Retrieved May 1, 2017

University of Maryland Medical Center, “Asthma in Adults.” Retrieved May 1, 2017