Why do Addicts relapse when things are good?

Research data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that an estimated 40-60% of people relapse while in recovery. According to treatment specialists, despite positive progress in treatment, relapse is part of the recovery process. Why do addicts relapse when things are good? Alcohol and drug addiction relapse is a common event that can happen when first attempting to recover from addiction.

Addiction is a chronic mental health disorder characterized by patterns of behaviors and feelings that lead to negative outcomes. Drug or alcohol addiction is a chronic relapsing illness. Treatment for alcoholism and substance abuse is no easy task. Healing of the brain and body after substance use can take up to 90 days after the initial detox. Recovery is more than just not using mind-altering substances. It is more about creating a solid foundation to embrace a healthier lifestyle that helps a person maintain their recovery goals. The physical and emotional toll it can take on a person can often lead to setbacks referred to as relapse.

An interconnecting turning wheel that represents relapse and recovery asks why do addicts relapse when things are good.

What is Addiction Relapse?

Relapse is defined as a series of setbacks on the path to recovery. It is a recurrence of behaviors and feelings that indicate the disease is still active or worsening. Substance abuse relapse occurs when a person chooses to use drugs again.

These setbacks or mistakes are considered part of the recovery process and not a failure of recovery. It is seen as an opportunity to reset your path to sobriety. In fact, there are different stages of addiction relapse. Relapse is not an event that happens right away. It is a gradual process.

Emotional relapse is the first stage. Though a person might not be contemplating using drugs, their feelings and emotions can put them in a state of denial, isolation and low motivation. When this occurs, the person becomes more sensitive and more prone to giving in to drug cravings or influence.

During the mental relapse state, a person will begin thinking about using drugs. They will have increased cravings. They will begin seeking opportunities to use. They will also begin to downplay the consequences that can occur if they use.

Physical relapse is the last stage in which a person starts using drugs again.

Why do people Relapse?

What are the causes of drug and alcohol addiction relapse? In general, underlying issues that have not been addressed in treatment cause relapse. These issues can range from physical dependencies, co-occurring mental health conditions and other emotional stressors.

One of the most common reasons for relapsing is having unrealistic expectations of how your life will be after treatment. Oftentimes, people will try to continue with their lives pre-treatment. They will begin associating with their drug-using friends and socializing in environments related to their drug use. Sometimes patients find it difficult to redesign their new lives to accommodate their recovery.

The following are common factors that can contribute to relapse:

  • Uncomfortable and intense withdrawal symptoms can lead to relapse. Some people relapse within the first week after stopping substance use to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms. In severe cases, these symptoms can be so intense and long-lasting. It leads to an urge to use drugs again.
  • Untreated mental health conditions can lead to relapse.  When patients use it again, they self-medicate to feel normal or numb the pain.
  • Being around people who engage in non-sober activities is a huge trigger to use substances.
  • Places such as bars, liquor stores, casinos and parties, have access to alcohol. It is commonly associated with alcohol and drug use. Returning to this type of environment is a trigger to use drugs.
  • Seemingly ordinary things such as glasses clinking and the sounds of bottles opening can also trigger feelings of alcohol use.  
  • Poor self-care including mental and physical health is a major factor that can lead to relapse. Self-care traits include unhealthy eating, poor sleep hygiene and poor physical appearance.
  • When a person’s relationships are damaged it can affect their urge to use drugs. Family members or an intimate partner may not understand the new sober lifestyle. The lack of support and communication can lead a person to use substances in order to avoid unpleasant emotions related to their relationships.
  • Sometimes boredom and isolation can also cause people to relapse. When people have downtime, they often go back to thinking about drugs and develop cravings.
  • The inability to manage uncomfortable emotions leads many to self-medicate and suppress the negative emotions they are feeling.

Check Your Insurance Coverage for FREE

Find out if your insurance covers addiction treatment in minutes. We accept most insurance!

What are some of the signs that a person can be prone to relapse?

  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Becoming intolerant and easy to anger
  • Increased lack of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Isolation from others and socially checked out
  • Not attending treatment or addiction support meetings
  • Change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Failure to take care of oneself mentally and physically
  • Craving for drugs
  • Constantly thinking about people and places associated with drug use
  • Minimizing consequences of drug use
  • Thinking about opportunities to use drugs

The Role of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Relapse

One of the biggest and most recent triggers for substance addiction relapse was the Covid-19 pandemic. During the period of lockdown, the number of relapses exponentially increased. This was due to a number of contributing factors. Social distancing led to isolation. Those in recovery began struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety and boredom. All catalyst factors for relapse.

The pandemic shut down many vital services for medical treatment, outpatient programs and addiction recovery support groups. Many of these meetings moved to online platforms such as zoom. For some patients, the lack of personal and social interaction did not provide enough support for their recovery. The transition to telehealth was not working for substance abuse treatment.  

Ultimately, the pandemic highlighted all of the inefficiencies in how people in recovery were able to access and receive treatment.

Techniques and Tips on how to prevent Relapse

There are many ways to get ahead of a potential relapse. By knowing the potential risk factors and signs of possible relapse, addiction relapse can be prevented.

  • Learn to recognize signs of potential triggers whether it is behavioral, environmental or social.
  • Continuing to care for your mental and physical health. Recovery is a lifelong work in progress. Patients must continue to work on building a healthier lifestyle through regular exercise, nutrition and treatment.
  • Managing stress levels is important to preventing relapse. Find effective and productive ways to tackle feelings of stress. This could be through hobbies such as reading, meditation, or arts and crafts.
  • Continued treatment and support such as addiction recovery support groups, family therapy and individual therapy can help prevent relapse.

If you or a loved one has fallen into a substance addiction relapse, professional treatment is recommended. Hotel California by the Sea offers a full continuum of care when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction recovery.

Detox and residential services offer medication management to help patients treat the physical dependence of their addiction. As patients move into PHP and IOP care, intensive therapies will help them address any co-occurring mental health conditions.

Relapsing is not a failure of recovery. Relapse is a part of recovery. It is a commonly occurring event that gives the user an opportunity to reset and possibly choose a different or more effective path to recovery. Hotel California by the Sea understands the intricacies of healing and provides all opportunities to help clients achieve long-term sobriety.