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How relapse shapes an addict’s path to recovery

Keaton rejoins the Project Recovery podcast to talk about his recent relapse and how it's affecting his recovery.

During an addict’s journey back to living a clean lifestyle no word causes as much stress and anxiety as ‘relapse’. Keaton knows that firsthand.

Keaton described his experience with relapse after being sober for ten months on the Project Recovery podcast. “I had done what I  thought I needed to do in terms of putting my life back together,” he said. He checked all of the boxes recovery centers tell you to check. Keaton dove back into the workforce, got a new apartment and was meeting all of his recreational goals. But somehow, he still felt empty.

How emptiness can lead to relapse

“The hollowness and the lack of fulfillment of all of that … when I realized I thought I had everything I was supposed to have to feel okay, and I didn’t feel okay, that was when I really started to lose control,” he explained.

In the world of addiction, Keaton is not alone. The National Institute on Drug abuse estimates the relapse rate for substance use disorders is between 40 and 60 percent. Why do so many people go back to an addiction which is tearing their lives apart? For many, not getting the proper mental health support post-treatment is the main perpetrator of relapse.

Keaton is no exception and even believes it’s his biggest problem. Staying in his own head and overthinking eventually led to not taking action.

The connection between substance abuse disorders and mental illness is still under intense research. Surveys show individuals who develop substance use disorders have also been diagnosed or show signs of mental disorders. The data also shows those struggling with a mental illness have an increased risk of non-medical prescription opioid use.

Keaton believes high relapse rates and a connection between mental illness and susceptibility to addiction borne out in the data should increase the way mental health is emphasized during treatment.

“Was I really doing what I needed to do to take care of my mental health and to create a sense of meaning and purpose in my life,” he wondered. While he was still attending meetings, Keaton believes he fell short when it came to his mental health. As he began to rebuild his life, he would still go to bed at night with anxiety and feeling unfulfilled. Which, in turn, left Keaton emotional and vulnerable in his path to sobriety.

How Keaton is moving forward

Ultimately, Keaton relapsed again — the fourth time since he started trying to treat his substance abuse disorder. But just two days after spending almost 3 months in a recovery center, Keaton is picking up the pieces and finding enough purpose in life to keep him on his path to recovery.

Creating a healthier lifestyle, both physically and mentally, are Keaton’s priority now. He is methodically introducing things which he hopes increase his odds of curbing a future relapse.

“Right now, I just feel like I am more actively engaged in my life than I have been,” he described. “Turning these small behaviors into habits … in terms of meditating, of communicating honestly, of reaching out, of taking care of myself physically … there are just so many actions that I have not taken in the past.”

Keaton’s focus is now taking things one day at a time, even though life out of recovery can be incredibly daunting.

“The difference for me has to be the action I take in my life on a daily basis,” Keaton concluded.

To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts and be sure to check out the ‘Project Recovery‘ page on