The 5 Critical Reasons Addicts Relapse and How to Prevent It. It is difficult to watch a person who has been in recovery for drug abuse relapse, or begin using again after a period of sobriety. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than half of all drug users will relapse at some point, with 47 percent of people relapsing within the first year. Relapse can be difficult to understand and a common occurrence, but it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of treatment and recovery. Learning the reasons behind many relapses can help a drug user and his or her family learn to avoid a relapse.
The Reasons Behind Relapses
One of the most common reasons that people relapse is due to stress. According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA), people who are recovering from drug abuse can often relapse if they experience what seems like even the smallest amount of stress. The reason that stress can trigger a relapse may be connected to the fact that drug use changes the way the body responds to stress hormones.
Drugs such as heroin block stress hormones, which helps some people feel less stressed out. But, when the drugs wear off, the stress hormones are triggered and the stress felt is often more intense than it would have been without the drugs. It’s not clear whether a person who abuses drugs was predisposed to be more sensitive to stress hormones, or if drug use makes a person more sensitive. What is clear is that there is a connection between stressful situations and drug relapse.
2. Too Much Confidence
Relapse into drug use can also occur when a person is feeling on top of the world or on top of his or her addiction. If a former drug user feels very confident in his or her recovery, there might be the temptation to use again, but in a casual way. The user often remembers the early days of drug use, before the addiction took firm root and before the drug use became uncontrollable. He or she might think that he or she can go back to that time easily, using drugs again “just for fun.”
But, drug abuse and addiction change the way the brain works. A person with a history of drug abuse cannot simply return to using drugs for recreational purposes. The changes in the brain can mean that a person who starts using again falls back into the old pattern of drug abuse almost immediately.
3. Exposure and Peer Pressure
Exposure to addictive drugs and alcohol can go along with feelings of confidence. A person who is recovering from drug abuse might decide that it is okay to go to a party where drugs are being used or where there will be a lot of freely available alcohol. He or she might feel confident in his or her ability not to use at a party, only to find that the pressure and exposure is too much.
Putting oneself in a situation where drugs are easily available can also be a test that can be easily failed. Although a former drug user might want to feel that he or she is back in control, it’s best to steer clear of any situation where drugs are easily accessible or where there might be the slightest temptation to use again.
That also means that a person who is in recovery should avoid people who are still using drugs or alcohol. The former drug abuser might want to help his or her friends. But, putting him or herself in that situation can be more risky than it is worth.
4. Challenging Emotions
Along with stress, other negative and challenging emotions can lead to a relapse. A person might blame him or herself for the addiction in the first place. Intense feelings of guilt over the harm the drug abuse has caused can make a person feel hopeless or helpless, meaning he or she once again turns to drug use to cope with any pain.
Feelings of guilt aren’t the only challenging emotions that can trigger relapse. Fear is another emotion that often leads to a relapse. A former drug user might worry about what the future holds. He or she might fear falling back into the old habits of addiction, triggering a relapse.
Anger and depression can also trigger relapses in some recovering users. The hope is that people will have learned to handle negative emotions during treatment, but that is not always the case. An argument with a family member or close friend might lead to a person picking up drug use again, as he or she might not have the skills to handle the emotional response in a positive manner.
5. Finding a New Addiction
There are cases when a drug user trades one addiction for another, according to the counseling services at Northern Kentucky University. For example, a person might recover from an addiction to cocaine, only to start drinking compulsively. The new addiction is a form of relapse, as it indicates that the underlying issues have not been treated. The person is simply trading one type of drug abuse for another. The new addiction or abusive behavior might seem less damaging than the first. For example, some people believe that drinking is less harmful than abusing addictive drugs. The new addiction might also be a form of compulsive behavior rather than substance abuse, such as compulsive shopping, gambling or eating.
People can work to prevent a relapse in several ways. Many people benefit from attending ongoing support groups, such as a 12-step group or another type of therapy. Another way to avoid a relapse is for a person to learn his or her limitations and to strive to avoid situations that are risky or full of temptation. No matter how confident a person in recovery feels, he or she is better off not hanging out with other drug users and avoiding parties where drugs and alcohol are freely offered.
Support from family and friends is also essential for the prevention of a relapse. It’s important for loved ones to take part in the recovery process. They might benefit from attending support group meetings with the drug user or from attending meetings designed for friends and family of users. Family and friends can also be there for the user to help him or her avoid stressful situations or help him or her handle those situations appropriately.