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Let’s talk RELAPSE

03 January, 2020Articles, News

Relapse occurs when someone returns to substance use after a period of abstinence. It is a common setback among people recovering from addiction. In fact, many individuals in recovery experience more than one relapse in their lives.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people recovering from drug addiction relapse. These recurrence rates are similar to those of other chronic diseases, including Type 1 diabetes and hypertension.

Staying sober takes time, practice and commitment, and a relapse does not mean treatment has failed. Addiction is a brain disorder that causes people to engage in compulsive drug use despite knowing the physical, legal and social consequences.

People in recovery from this disease may return to heavy drug or alcohol use. A number of factors can cause people to relapse, but long-term recovery is possible for those dedicated to living healthy, sober lives.

Factors that Can Cause A Relapse

Completing rehab does not guarantee sobriety. After leaving treatment for substance abuse, people often return to environments where they once used drugs. Certain people, places and things from a person’s past can bring about memories of substance use, which can induce urges that may lead to a relapse.

The risk for relapse can be influenced by the duration of addiction. For example, a person in recovery from long-term alcoholism has a higher risk of relapsing than someone who seeks treatment for an alcohol addiction that has lasted less than a year.

A number of factors can increase the likelihood of relapse, including succumbing to triggers or failing to seek out aftercare services upon completion of treatment for addiction.


Triggers are thoughts, feelings, sensations, situations and relationships that cause someone to drink or use drugs after a period of abstinence. For example, driving past a familiar drinking establishment, such as a bar or restaurant, may generate cravings in some people in recovery.

Triggers can arise when people feel sad or attend a social function where alcohol is available. Other triggers include stress, lack of sleep and various physical illnesses.

Communicating with individuals who engage in substance abuse is a common trigger for individuals in recovery. Friends who do drugs or drink heavily might also pressure people to engage in substance use after addiction treatment.

Failing to Seek Further Assistance after Rehab

Many people who complete rehab do not adhere to their treatment plan. They may think treatment cured their disease, but a relapse can still occur. Taking proper steps to remain drug-free can increase a person’s chances of maintaining sobriety during recovery.

Aftercare services provide extended care after rehab. These services include psychotherapy, 12-step education and other prevention programs that help people avoid triggers that commonly lead to relapse. Many treatment centres encourage clients to engage in aftercare services.

These programs may also include sober housing, which are substance-free homes for people in recovery. These environments allow residents to support one another in abstaining from drug or alcohol use.

Access to a strong support system is important for preventing a relapse. Family, friends, recovery coaches and peer mentors can provide immediate support and encouragement to people experiencing challenging times.

Other Factors that Lead to Relapse

Several internal or external factors can cause a relapse that delays recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

  • Fatigue

Physical or mental exhaustion can lead to fatigue, which can affect everyday tasks. Too much stress can create urges to numb physical or psychological pain with drugs or alcohol.

  • Depression

Depression is a mental health disorder that often co-occurs with addiction. Depressive thoughts can cause people to oversleep, lose interest in hobbies or have difficulty focusing. People experiencing depression in recovery may be tempted to use drugs to find relief.

  • Physical Pain

In addition to psychological issues such as depression, physical pain is associated with relapse. A 2016 study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that decreases in pain levels may lower the risk for alcohol relapse.

  • Dishonesty

Many people in recovery are dishonest about feelings such as anger and resentment. As a result, they may make excuses for not accomplishing tasks, or they may become more easily frustrated with others. These feelings can steer someone back to substance abuse.

  • Self-Pity

People in recovery may be disappointed that they can no longer attend parties or go to the bar with friends. Feeling sorry for oneself or dwelling on negative circumstances can be dangerous because these thoughts can lead to relapse.

  • Unemployment

A 2011 study found that unemployment increases the risk of relapse after rehab treatment. Researchers found that risky drinking, which includes binge drinking or heavy alcohol use, is more common among the unemployed. They also found that unemployment is a risk factor for substance use and addiction.

  • Mindfulness Activities Might Help Prevent Relapse

Recovery takes time. Further treatment may be needed after an initial stay in rehab to help people reach long-term sobriety. During recovery, individuals should attend counselling or 12-step meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

A variety of factors can cause someone in recovery to relapse. However, engaging in aftercare services such as 12-step programs or halfway houses can reinforce strategies to stay sober. Individuals who experience chronic stress or feelings of depression should seek further assistance to avoid relapse.

Why Relapse Isn’t a Sign of Failure

Addiction relapse is akin to relapse for other chronic diseases.

Addiction relapse is common. Studies suggest that approximately half of all individuals who try to get sober return to heavy use, with 70 to 90 percent experiencing at least one mild to moderate slip. In other words, not many people say, “I want to get sober,” walk into a treatment centre, and never use drugs again.

In this way, addiction is very much akin to other chronic diseases. As with chemical addiction, patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension frequently fail to comply with their ongoing treatments – relapsing, if you will, oftentimes with dire consequences.

Thus, no matter the chronic disease, it is ultimately up to the individual to adjust his or her lifestyle and assume responsibility for managing his or her own care. Unfortunately, removing the drug (detoxing) is the easy part. Changing the behaviours that compel the addict to use is significantly more difficult.




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