What Is The Most Common Cause Of Relapse?

Although relapse can be common after treatment, knowing the common causes can help you prevent falling back into old habits.

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The most common cause of addiction relapse varies by case, as factors influencing relapse are often determined by genetics, environment, and past experiences.

However, one of the most universally recognized causes of relapse is a lack of coping mechanisms for triggers, particularly when coupled with emotional or situational challenges.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we put an emphasis on teaching our clients the skills they need to skillfully handle relapse triggers, taking a proactive approach to sustained sobriety.

What Is Relapse?

Relapse happens when a person returns to patterns of substance abuse or addiction after a period of recovery. The term is commonly associated with conditions like opioid use disorder, alcohol abuse, and drug addiction.

Relapse is common. It’s estimated that between 40 and 60 percent of Americans who have been treated for substance use disorders will relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

However, relapse does not necessarily indicate failure. Instead, it underscores the chronic nature of addiction and the challenges many people face during recovery.

The concept of relapse also recognizes that certain conditions, whether they be addiction, mental illness, or both, may require ongoing attention, management, and support to maintain the person’s well-being.

Relapse prevention strategies, therapy, and supportive environments should all be considered when building a comprehensive addiction recovery plan.

The Process Of Relapsing

The process of relapsing is likely to vary depending on a person’s specific context, such as their type of addiction and their mental health status.

However, there are several generally recognized stages that many people go through as they exit treatment centers and attempt to acclimate to their new, sober lives.

The process of relapsing usually starts with a trigger. Often, people are at the highest risk of relapse within the first year of sobriety.

Examples of common relapse triggers include:

  • emotional triggers, such as stress, anxiety, or depression
  • loneliness or social isolation
  • high-risk situations or events, including those related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • external factors like relationship problems, work-related stress, or major life changes
  • distorted thinking patterns, like rationalizing the idea of using substances again

As triggers intensify, people may start to experience strong urges to return to their previous drug or alcohol use.

People may also begin to distance themselves from supportive networks, neglect self-care, or return to environments associated with their past behavior.

Left untreated, a person may eventually relapse, which is when they engage in the behavior they were trying to avoid.

In the context of addiction, this usually means imbibing in the drugs or alcohol that caused their substance abuse in the first place, though it’s possible for a person to relapse by switching to a new substance.

Common Causes Of Relapse

Drug relapse is a complex phenomenon influenced by a wide range of factors.

Understanding the most common causes of relapse can help people develop effective strategies to prevent and address setbacks during the recovery process.

Lacking Coping Mechanisms

When a person does not have the proper coping skills for dealing with life stressors and challenges, it can contribute to relapse.

Without alternative strategies, people may become overwhelmed and return to familiar patterns of substance use for comfort or escape.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers or cues associated with previous drug use, can evoke cravings and lead to relapse.

Examples of environmental triggers include specific places where substances were once taken, people who the person often used substances with, or situations that triggered substance use.

Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation represents a distinct challenge, involving a shift in one’s emotional state that precedes the actual urge to use substances.

Stressful situations, emotional relapse, or unresolved psychological issues can surface, and people may turn to substances as a way to cope with these challenges.

Similarly, unresolved emotions such as anxiety, sadness, or anger can create a vulnerability that may lead individuals back to familiar patterns of substance use.

Social Pressure

Influence from friends or social circles that engage in substance use can create significant pressure in a person’s life, whether it’s explicit or unspoken.

Peer influence may contribute to relapse, especially when individuals are seeking acceptance or a sense of belonging from others.

Mental Health Issues

Untreated or undiagnosed mental health disorders can contribute to relapse.

People may self-medicate with substances to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.

During substance abuse treatment, it’s important to address both the substance abuse and any potential mental health conditions that may be contributing to the condition in order to prevent relapse.

Complacency In Recovery

A sense of overconfidence or complacency about one’s ability to stay sober can lead to a lack of vigilance.

People may underestimate the ongoing effort required for maintaining long-term recovery.

Stagnation In Personal Growth

Stagnation in personal growth, including the negative emotions associated with stagnation such as frustration, anger, or boredom, can become triggers for relapse.

Lack Of Aftercare

Aftercare is a vital aspect of recovery that should not be overlooked.

The absence of a supportive network can leave people vulnerable, especially during challenging times when they need guidance and encouragement.

Planning For Relapse Prevention At Bedrock Recovery Center

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we place a strong emphasis on relapse prevention and include relapse prevention education in all of our treatment plans.

We start by helping our clients identify situations, emotions, or environmental factors that may trigger cravings or the desire to start using substances again.

Once triggers are identified, we work on developing effective coping strategies. These can include mindfulness techniques, engaging in physical activity, or leaning on support networks.

We also offer aftercare treatment programs, which include therapy and support groups that provide continued encouragement and address the changing needs in each person’s recovery journey.

By investing time and effort in relapse prevention planning, we help empower our clients with the tools they need to navigate recovery successfully.

Learn About Our Addiction Treatment Programs In Massachusetts

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction in Massachusetts, our rehab programs can help. Contact us today at Bedrock Recovery Center to learn more.

  1. Alcohol And Drug Foundation (ADF) https://adf.org.au/reducing-risk/relapse/
  2. National Library of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553654/
  3. National Library of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5844157/
  4. National Library of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7186308/
  5. National Library of Medicine: PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3674771/

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: December 14, 2023

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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