The Top 5 Causes Of Addiction Relapse 

No matter how long you or your loved one has been in recovery, there is always a potential for relapse. Relapsing is considered a normal part of the addiction treatment process, but understanding what causes a relapse is a good way to help prevent one.

The Top 5 Causes Of Addiction Relapse

Relapses happen when people with a substance use disorder (SUD) consume drugs or alcohol after a period of intentional sobriety. 

When a person relapses, they return to their previous levels of substance abuse. This is slightly different from a brief lapse, where they may use drugs or alcohol once before stopping. 

Despite the myths perpetuated by addiction stigmas, relapsing does not mean you have failed. Many people relapse during treatment and continue on the path to recovery. 

How Often Do People Relapse During Recovery?

Research has found that roughly half of people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction will experience a relapse at some point. 

Most people who relapse do so within the first year after completing a treatment program, but some also relapse years into recovery. 

People with heroin use disorders relapse the most. Relapses are also more prevalent among those who abuse alcohol, cocaine, or methamphetamines. 

Signs Of A Potential Substance Abuse Relapse

There are a few potential warning signs and symptoms of an impending relapse that you can watch out for. 

A person about to relapse may exhibit the following: 

  • increased isolation 
  • depression, anxiety, or other negative mood changes 
  • a decline in hygiene and self-care habits
  • expressing nostalgia for past substance use 
  • no longer avoiding cravings and triggers, such as visiting old friends who participated in drug or alcohol use 
  • using “less severe” substances (such as marijuana) 
  • downplaying the negative effects of addiction 
  • a lack of motivation to continue treatment 

Stages Of Addiction Relapse 

There are three main stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. 

During the emotional stage, people may not be actively thinking about relapsing. Instead, they may battle with negative emotions or stressors that triggered substance abuse in the past. 

This leads to the mental relapse stage, where people begin thinking about how it would feel to use drugs or alcohol again. They may also start planning where to get their substance of choice. 

Bargaining is a common occurrence during the mental stage. People may think, “I’ll have one drink over the holidays and then stop,” which can trigger a full relapse. 

The physical relapse stage is when alcohol or drug use actually takes place. One-time use is considered a lapse in judgment, but continued use is a relapse of substance abuse. 

Top Causes Of Drug Or Alcohol Relapse 

Although people relapse for a number of reasons, there are a few that are more common than others. These causes are often referred to as triggers.

1. Stress 

Stress and trauma are the most common causes of substance abuse. People may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, particularly if they don’t know healthy ways to handle difficult life experiences. 

Toxic relationships, health problems, financial difficulties, changing jobs, moving, and other major stressors can make it especially challenging to handle cravings for substances. 

2. Lack Of Pleasure From Usual Activities

Mitigating cravings can be especially difficult in the first few months of addiction treatment due to the way in which substances affect the brain’s reward circuit. 

When a person uses a drug, a large amount of dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is usually released to reinforce positive behaviors, like eating or having sex.

When the body has adjusted to the use of drugs to obtain pleasure, it can be difficult to derive pleasure from any other activities for a period of time.

3. Boredom And Loneliness 

One of the reasons why rehab centers incorporate so many group activities into their programs is because they help counteract boredom and loneliness, two main causes of relapse that often go together. 

People who have experienced severe substance abuse may not know what to do with their free time once they are sober, and it can feel overwhelming initially to find new hobbies or friends. 

4. Mental Health Issues 

Up to 40% of people with substance use disorders also have a co-occurring mental illness, and self-managing the symptoms of mental illness can lead to substance abuse. 

Handling depression or an anxiety disorder, along with day-to-day disruptive emotions, can be especially challenging for people in recovery, who may have turned to substances in the past to cope. 

5.  Holidays And Other Times Of Celebration

Birthdays, winter holidays, the Fourth of July, Halloween, and other holidays and celebrations often involve alcohol and sometimes other substances. 

Relapses around Christmas are particularly common, and it can be challenging for people new to recovery to find holiday activities that don’t revolve around substance use. 

How To Help A Loved One During A Relapse 

There are many more reasons why someone may relapse, and these can be deeply personal for people in recovery. They may be reluctant to talk about what’s triggering them at first. 

However, there is a lot you can do to help your loved one manage their cravings. The first step is knowing the warning signs so that you can watch for them before a relapse happens. 

You can also encourage them to continue participating in treatment programs and services like therapy or 12-step groups. Being a “sober buddy” during events is another invaluable resource. 

If your loved one does relapse, don’t despair. Talk to them about returning to treatment to work on relapse prevention techniques and other forms of recovery management. 

It may take a few attempts to learn what works best, but long-term recovery is possible with continued treatment and support. 

Get Help For A Substance Use Disorder Today

If you or a loved one is experiencing drug addiction or alcohol abuse, don’t hesitate to find help. Contact us today to learn more about your recovery options. 

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