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Why Addicts Relapse

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Seeking help for your substance abuse addiction was the first step on the long journey of recovery. Sadly, many addicts will relapse within a year of completing a rehab program. In some cases, some people relapse shortly after leaving a treatment facility. So, why do addicts relapse? 

There can be many reasons why addicts relapse. By understanding these reasons, learning more about yourself, your addiction, and becoming better equipped with the skills and tools needed to maintain sobriety, the risks of relapse do decline the longer you remain sober.  

What Is a Relapse?

A relapse is where an individual discontinues attempting to maintain their sobriety. Instead, they return to using their preferred substance or substances at the levels they were abusing before seeking rehab treatment. 

It is worth mentioning a relapse is not the same as a lapse. Lapses are common throughout recovery and maintaining sobriety. They are characterized by minor slip-ups where one temporarily uses drugs and alcohol only to return to living sober within a day or two of the slip-up. 

What Are the Stages of Relapse?

There are three stages a person will go through before fully relapsing. 

#1. Psychological

In the first stage of relapse, the individual’s emotions and behaviors do not align with their recovery. For example, they may stop sharing at meetings or stop going to meetings entirely. They could start to isolate themselves away. They could experience mood swings. 

They could also fall back into poor eating, sleeping, and hygiene habits. Furthermore, they may feel resentful towards others who drink or use drugs.   

#2. Mental

In the mental stage of relapse, the individual starts to think more and more about using. They may fantasize about how great they felt when drinking and using drugs. They can begin to experience cravings that become more intense. 

It is during this stage that bargaining begins. For example, the person will start to think about different situations where it would be okay to drink or use drugs occasionally, like earning a promotion at work. Bargaining consists of making deals with oneself like, “I can use just this once and then stop.” 

Additionally, the mental stage is where one starts to think about using other addictive substances. For instance, if they abused opioids in the past, they may make a promise to avoid opioids and give themself permission to use other substances. 

#3. Physical

As the psychological and mental effects of relapse become stronger, it is not long before someone gives in and physically relapses. At this stage, they return to using substances and have no desire to stop. They could return to abusing their preferred substance or be on the path to developing an addiction to a new substance. 

Common Signs and Reasons Why Addicts Relapse

Long before someone physically relapses, there are several common warning signs you need to be aware of that could help prevent you from relapsing. 

Mental Health Issues

If you are experiencing mental issues, like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc., it can trigger self-treating your condition by drinking or using drugs. So, if you find you are thinking about coping and managing your condition yourself, you could relapse. 


Another reason why addicts relapse is by frequenting the places where they used to drink or use drugs. The more they visit these places, the more likely they will start to go through the relapse stages. 


When we talk about things, we are referring to scents, smells, sounds, and objects that you associated with while abusing substances. For example, if you burned incense when you abused drugs, that particular scent could trigger a craving. Unless you deal with the carving productively, it can set up the stages of relapse. 


When you were drinking or using drugs, you most likely hung around other people that drank and used drugs. Being around formal “friends” that still drink and use drugs or associating with others that drink and use drugs, like your co-workers, could cause you to eventually relapse. 


Some people will blame themselves and experience guilt if they have been lapsing and not getting the help they need. Eventually, the guilt and self-loathing can become very powerful relapse triggers. 

What Can You Do If You Relapse?

Should you relapse, the first thing to do is remember that recovery is a life-long journey. You are not the first person, nor will you be the last to experience a relapse. So take this moment and view it as an opportunity to learn more about your addiction and your triggers. 

Then, your next objective is to seek relapse addiction treatment with a residential or intensive outpatient program that includes detox. As you regain your confidence in your sobriety, you may want to consider asking the rehab facility for a referral to a sober living community. Sober living communities can provide added support to help reduce the risks for future lapses and relapses. 

Relapse Addiction Treatment in Orange County, CA

The causes and reasons why addicts relapse vary based on their personal experiences, situations, and abused substances. If you are worried about relapse or have relapsed, relapse addiction treatment is available at Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA.

We offer residential, outpatient, and ongoing aftercare support to help you get back on the road to recovery and achieving long-term sobriety. For further information about our relapse addiction treatment programs, please feel free to contact us or call us to speak with an intake specialist today! 

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