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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Whitney Houston's Death Raises Addiction Questions

Addiction Relapse Often Deadly: A WebMD FAQ

Why Is Addiction Relapse So Common?

Addictions are for life. But life isn't always a smooth course. Stress inevitably comes along.

"The whole stress system is linked to the reward system, which has been hijacked by the addiction," Salloum says. "When addicted people are faced with stress they cannot cope with, they are at high risk of relapse."

When one thinks of addiction as a chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, relapse is easier to understand.

"The goal is abstinence and long-term recovery, but we understand it may not be a straight line to that goal," Goldman says. "People with diabetes may sometimes have too-high blood sugar, but one high reading does not mean they are failing treatment."

Unfortunately for people battling addiction, any single relapse can be deadly.

If relapse isn't fatal, addicts who go back into recovery can learn from their mistakes.

"Relapse really could be part of this recovery process. It is a fine line," Goldman says. "You don't want to send the message that it is OK to relapse. People die when they relapse. Others never come back to treatment. It is very dangerous. But if people do relapse, we need to take that opportunity to move them forward to the next phase of their recovery."

Is Addiction More Common -- Or More Deadly -- to Celebrities?

Time after time we learn of celebrities who fall victim to addictions. They go into rehab. They relapse. Many -- too many -- die too young.

There are two sides to the issues faced by celebrities with addictions, Goldman says.

Being in the limelight, not having anonymity, having the pressure of every move you make being public has to take its toll," he says. "Expectations are high for each performance, and you have unlimited resources to buy drugs, people to provide them, and doctors to prescribe medications."

On the other hand, celebrities are able to get the best care available.

But in the end, celebrities are people. The unhappy truth is that many people have substance abuse problems.

"Celebrities are visible and public, but at the end of the day, all of us know someone who has suffered from an addictive disease," Goldman says. "And their suffering and that of their families has been equally dramatic as what we see in celebrities."

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