Get Help Now: (888) 989-9690
Get Help Now: (888) 989-9690

8 Reasons for Relapse and How to Recover

Reasons for Relapse

Many aspects of life can send us into a whirlwind of stress, overwhelming emotions, and negative behaviors. But if you’re in recovery or know someone who is, it’s essential to understand the reasons for relapse and how to ramp up support during these adverse times, even if it means returning to rehab for better guidance and more comprehensive treatment.    

What Does a Relapse Really Mean?

A common definition of “relapse” is to once again use the substances that led to behavioral difficulties and disease. However, this is only one component of a greater perspective. Addiction science researchers further define it this way: “Many individuals in both the healthcare system and the larger society focus on relapse in terms of the consumption of the alcohol or drug that has been problematic for the individual. However, consumption is the very last step in the relapse, and neglecting earlier events in a relapse prevents more effective intervention at earlier stages.”

In other words, most people experience mental and emotional relapses before the physical relapse—the use of alcohol or drugs—occurs. This is common in the first year of sobriety, but warning signs can flash for any individual in recovery when certain stressors and other factors are too much to handle effectively. For example:

An emotional relapse might be building when someone displays indicators such as:

  • Poor eating or sleeping habits
  • Focusing on other people’s problems
  • Choosing to isolate themselves
  • Not attending or sharing in 12-Step or other mutual aid meetings 

Signs of a mental relapse often include:

  • Cravings or thinking about the people, places, and activities associated with prior use
  • Trying to plan ways to use while still maintaining control 
  • Exaggerating the positive aspects of past use and/or minimizing the consequences of past use
  • Bargaining, lying, and other behaviors to justify using

Some addiction specialists also define a physical “lapse” as a one-time use, and a physical “relapse” as recurring use. 

8 Reasons for Relapse

It’s vital to note that each individual has unique issues relating to substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD), so we’re not here to generalize. That said, researchers have analyzed many reasons for emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Here are some of the most common.

  1. Certain personality traits. These might include lessened feelings of self-efficacy and self-esteem, misguided curiosity, a lack of concentration, and heightened impulsivity. 
  2. Challenges to mental and emotional health. When someone has a dual diagnosis of addiction and mental and behavioral health issues, it’s critical they have balanced treatment and symptom management of their conditions. If not, there’s an increasing threat to their sobriety. 
  3. Neurological changes. Addiction alters the brain’s structure and function, particularly in areas involved in reward processing, decision-making, and impulse control. Even after a period of sobriety, these neurological changes may persist, making some people more susceptible to relapse when exposed to triggers associated with substance use. The brain’s craving pathways may remain active, leading to intense urges and cravings that contribute to relapse.
  4. Underlying psychological issues. In addition to co-occurring mental health disorders, unresolved trauma and adverse childhood experiences can fuel addiction and increase the risk of relapse. Addressing them healthfully is essential for sustainable recovery. 
  5. Compromised interpersonal and social factors. Supportive and enriching relationships are critical to our health, but if you have intimate partner issues, family conflict, negative friend and environmental influences, a lack of peer support, and social stressors, these elements undermine recovery.
  6. Lack of coping skills. Techniques such as positive reinforcement, motivation, focused sleep hygiene and wellness efforts, and therapeutic conditioning have a strong impact on maintaining sobriety. Without these and other reliable coping methods, it’s all too easy to give in to emotional and mental triggers. 
  7. Chronic stress. Stressful life events, negative emotions, and mental health challenges can significantly increase the risk of relapse. Chronic stress dysregulates the brain’s stress response system, heightening vulnerability to substance use as a means of coping with discomfort or emotional pain. 
  8. Pink cloud syndrome. This is a euphoric state of mind, especially during initial stages of recovery, when you might believe everything is great because you’re sober. While you certainly want to feel this way, it’s also important to be realistic and recognize that pink cloud syndrome isn’t a permanent existence. Some people also experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome when the pink cloud fades, which shares signs of emotional and mental relapse.   

Again, these are just a few reasons why some people relapse. Use them to examine your thoughts and behaviors to develop a stronger continuum of care plan with your healthcare provider, counselor, or addiction specialist. 

Fair Oaks Can Help You Recover

Early intervention is key to avoiding relapse, and with what you know so far, you might be able to do it on your own. However, sometimes it’s important to get clearer guidance and methods that reinforce relapse prevention efforts. For example, it might help to learn how to cope with stress more effectively or become more involved in alumni programming at your former treatment facility to strengthen bonds with other people.  

But if you feel it’s time for a recovery check-up, please contact us. Fair Oaks Recovery Center in Sacramento, California, is a licensed Chemical Dependency Recovery Hospital, a status granted by the California Department of Public Health to addiction rehabilitation and dual diagnosis treatment facilities that provide high-level acuity care. Our board-certified medical team designs a customized treatment approach with progressive techniques you can rely on for your recovery goals. Ask our admissions team for details.

Fair Oaks Recovery Center of california - sacramento alcohol and drug addiction treatment center

For more information about programs offered at Fair Oaks Recovery Center, including our intensive outpatient program in Sacramento, please call us today at (888) 989-9690.
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