Comedian John Mulaney was admitted into rehab in 2020, having suffered a relapse with alcohol after more than a decade of sobriety. Addiction is a chronic disease which means that relapses can be a part of the recovery process.
As we wish John Mulaney well on his journey post-rehab and back into recovery, we also took a closer look at his struggle to better understand why people relapse and how we can help them.
Part of the Addiction Recovery Process
From the age of 13 until he was 23, Mulaney relied on substances to make him feel happy and confident in social situations. “I drank for attention,” John Mulaney explained in a 2019 interview with Esquire. “I was really outgoing, and then at 12, I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to act. And then I was drinking, and I was hilarious again.” He quit drinking and using cocaine in 2005 when he realized how bad things had gotten.
It was likely the strains of the COVID-19 pandemic – working from home, with most projects on hold – that triggered Mulaney’s relapse after 15 years. People are especially prone to relapse after periods of stress and isolation, and we have seen many others in the public eye experience relapses over the years. Mulaney admitted a month before he entered rehab that he was struggling to keep himself busy while at home. As an insider close to the family put it: “Plain and simple, John had too much downtime. He had too much time in his own head.” (Source: https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/john-mulaneys-choice-to-go-to-rehab-was-a-relief-to-his-family/)
The persistent stigma around addiction can cause a person to feel ashamed after a relapse as if it were a result of weakness. It is extremely important to stress that addiction, like any other chronic disease, is not caused by any sort of personal failure.
People develop addictions from a combination of genetics and life experience. Addiction doesn’t care how long you have been in recovery, and it can be triggered in a heartbeat. In fact, as a chronic disease, relapsing is often considered part of the recovery process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 40-60% of people who go through treatment will experience a relapse (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery). This doesn’t mean that treatment has failed, but rather it’s likely that the treatment plan needs to be updated and modified.
How to Help During a Relapse
John Mulaney has received an incredible outpouring of support from fans and other celebrities (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery). Recovery is always complex, especially after a relapse, and being there as emotional support for a loved one during this time is one of the best things you can do for them.
For anyone embarking on a new addiction treatment plan themselves, part of their journey will be re-learning how to identify individual triggers and developing strategies to prevent future relapses. Recovery is a lifelong journey, and that is a tool they will always need. Being able to recognize when they need help and taking those steps is essential for long-term recovery.
“John has always been engaged in his sobriety,” said the same anonymous source. “The relapse got ugly, but it was his choice to go to rehab, which saved his life.”