Why Do Former Addicts Relapse?

There are plenty of cases where a former drug or alcohol addict goes through relapse and you can’t help but wonder, “why do they choose to do this to themselves?” To understand why this happens we must first understand relapse. Relapse occurs when someone returns to substance abuse after a period of abstinence. This is a common setback that many people who are recovering from addiction tend to have. In fact, studies have shown that many recovering drug addicts experience multiple relapses before they actually get sober. 

About 40 to 60% of recovering addicts experience relapse according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Staying sober can take time, commitment, and practice in order to be successful, and going through relapse does not necessarily mean that you have failed to recover. Keep in mind that addiction is a disorder that affects the brain and it should be treated as a disease. Long-term recovery is possible if you dedicate yourself to staying sober and living a healthy lifestyle. 

Factors that influence relapse among drug addicts

Going through rehabilitation is not a full guarantee that you will recover. In fact, the moment you leave the treatment facility, you are exposed to the same environment and group of people who have gotten you in that situation in the first place. There are plenty of factors that could affect a person to go back to using drugs or alcohol. A person who is recovering from long-term substance abuse has a greater risk of relapsing compared to someone who has been an addict for a year or less. Triggers and failing to seek aftercare services once you have completed rehab can definitely play a major role in your relapse. 

So what are the factors that cause a relapse? Here are the most common causes:

Being exposed to triggers

A trigger could be anything; it could be thoughts, sensations, feelings, relationships or situations which can cause someone to drink or use drugs again after being in a period of abstinence. An example of a situation where a trigger can be felt is when you pass by a familiar place or establishment where you used to drink. This could eventually build an urge to drink again. It could also be a setting; for example, a recovering alcoholic attends a party where alcoholic drinks are served. A trigger could also be an emotion, like sadness or loneliness. Lack of sleep, as well as physical illnesses, can trigger a person to use drugs or alcohol again. 

Being acquainted with old friends who engage in substance abuse can also be a trigger for those who are in recovery. Peer pressure from friends who do drugs or drink heavily can also cause one to relapse even after a long period of not using any substance. Studies also show that the main causes of relapse among recovering addicts are stress as well as environmental factors. 

Failing to seek aftercare assistance once they are out of rehab

Another reason why a recovering addict falls into relapse is that they fail to seek out assistance after they have been released from rehab. They do not follow the treatment plan, thus why they find themselves using drugs and alcohol again. This goes to show that many patients have a misconception about rehab. You must understand that undergoing rehab does not guarantee your success in getting over an addiction. In fact, you are in a much more vulnerable state once rehab is over because you are exposed to many factors that could trigger your substance abuse all over again. That is why taking the proper steps in order to remain drug/alcohol-free is important and can increase your chances of long-term sobriety. 

Aftercare services are usually created to extend the care even after your rehabilitation is complete. These services may include a 12-Step program that you should follow, as well as other prevention programs that could teach you how to avoid relapse. Each patient that attends rehab is encouraged to attend to these programs once they are out. 

In aftercare services, patients could go to sober housing where they are monitored. These houses are substance-free built environments for people who are in their early recovery stages. They also allow recovering residents to support each other in staying away from drugs and alcohol. Sober homes are quite effective and are usually run or led by peers who are also in recovery from addiction. 

Having access to a strong support system and aftercare programs is very important, especially if you want to avoid relapse. Your family, friends, recovery coaches, and mentors are also important characters in your recovery. Their love, support, and encouragement play a key role in these challenging times. 

External and internal factors also contribute to relapse

Besides the usual triggers and failing to attend an aftercare program, there are also several internal and external factors that could cause a person to relapse. Here are a few:

  • Depression – depression is a mental disorder that causes one to have depressive thoughts like overthinking, oversleeping, suicidal thoughts, and loss of interest in many things that they usually enjoy. This could easily lead to a loss of focus on recovery and may also contribute to the use of drugs and alcohol to find some sort of relief. 
  • Experiencing physical pain – suffering from physical pain (caused by an accident, wound, etc.) can cause a recovering addict to use drugs in order to relieve the pain they are feeling. A study produced by the Drug and Alcohol Dependence stated that when pain is decreased, there is a lower risk of relapsing. 
  • Fatigue – mental and physical exhaustion are both factors that could lead to fatigue. When a person is fatigued, this limits their mobility which can affect their everyday activities. Extreme stress is also a contributor to fatigue which can also lead to the use of drugs/alcohol to relieve the stress they’re feeling. 
  • Being unemployed – drug addicts usually have a hard time getting a job because of their record and being unable to find a job for a period of time can lead to feelings of helplessness and depression. This can easily lead a recovering addict to binge drink and use drugs again. 
  • Having self-pity – there are a lot of restrictions when you are a recovering addict. For instance, you can no longer attend parties or social gatherings that serve alcoholic drinks. You cannot go to bars and drink until the early hours of the morning or hang out with friends who are using drugs. In short, you will be living with restrictions, which can be hard for some to deal with, but it’s beneficial towards your sobriety. However, this kind of situation can lead to a lot of self-pity and negative thoughts which can eventually lead you to drug or alcohol abuse all over again. 
  • Being dishonest about your feelings – some people who undergo rehab are often dishonest about how they really feel. This could lead to pent up anger, resentment, or other negative feelings, which could result in setbacks.

In Closing

Your recovery takes time, so you might as well give yourself time. Don’t be in a hurry to recover as you may only find yourself failing and succumbing to relapse. The best thing you can do is to follow through the aftercare programs, even if you feel like you don’t need to. Be with people who encourage you to get better, rather than those who tempt you to use drugs and alcohol again. Be in control of your situation and commit to full recovery. It’s not too late to turn your life around and be healthy once again.