The Most Common Causes of Relapse

January 12, 2012 by  
Filed under ADDICTION

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Avoiding relapse is a common struggle for recovering alcoholics and  drug addicts. As a friend or family member of an addict in recovery, it can often be difficult to know how to best support your loved one’s recovery efforts. Being aware of the triggers and warning signs of potential relapse is an important step in helping a recovering addict avoid the temptations and situations most likely to derail a successful recovery.

Warning Signs

While it is never possible to know what is going on in someone else’s mind, there are several external warning signs that a recovering addict is in danger of relapse. These signs include:

•    Difficulties with thinking and memory.
•    Sleep disturbances.
•    Oversensitivity to stress and emotional overreaction.
•    Being easily overwhelmed and having difficulty problem solving.
•    Depression.
•    Denial — saying everything is fine when clearly it is not.

Additionally, there are several internal warning signs that may be harder to spot but are just as real:

•    Self-pity — feeling like nothing goes right and nothing ever will.
•    Feeling unhealthy and tired.
•    Blaming problems on others.
•    Cravings — yearning to drink or use drugs to feel “normal” again.
•    Thinking that just one drink or one hit will be fine and there is no longer an addiction.


According to substance abuse counselor Carole Bennett, MA, there are four common motivating factors that drive addicts to relapse: boredom, fear, expectations and resentment. Of the many reasons addicts give for relapsing, most generally fall into one of these four categories.


Boredom is both a state of mind and a comfort zone. It is easy to slip into a daze in front of the television or the computer or simply sleep the day away. However, this type of mindset can easily lead a recovering addict to drug or alcohol use to relieve the boredom. Signs of a bored mindset include sluggishness, a lackluster attitude and despair. Overindulgence in activities such as eating, shopping or gambling can also be signs of boredom.

What family members can do to help: Find a common interest or hobby to share. Sports or other active pursuits are especially good. Having a passion for something can go a long way toward curing boredom.

What addicts can do to help themselves: Have a schedule and a routine. Knowing where to go and what to do can provide a sense of structure and accountability.


There are many things a recovering addict may fear, including losing control, the unknown, old troubles from the past, taking chances, making decisions or facing life without drugs or alcohol.

What family members can do to help: Unfortunately, because fear comes from within, there is not much friends and family can do besides provide reassurance, support and encouragement.

What addicts can do to help themselves: Trust in life’s victories, both big and small. Take comfort in accomplishments and in the positive occurrences in each day. Let one positive experience build upon another.


Once a recovering addict is clean and sober, there may be a sense of euphoria. A former addict may feel like taking on huge projects or have unrealistic expectations about life during recovery. If reality falls short of expectations, an addict may seek comfort through drugs or alcohol.

What family members can do to help: Manage your own expectations and be supportive.

What addicts can do to help themselves: Have realistic expectations about recovery and what you can accomplish during this period. Set realistic goals in order to avoid falling short of expectations and becoming frustrated.


This is the number one cause of relapse. Old resentments from the past may still be simmering, or new resentments toward friends and family may develop. Either way, resentments that are left to stew are a sure path to relapse. Signs and symptoms of resentment can include intense self-pity and anger.

What family members can do to help: Be aware of the possible situation, let go of your own resentment and be supportive of therapy.

What addicts can do to help themselves: Have a strong support system in place, whether it is sponsorship and 12-Step meetings, counseling or religious or spiritual guidance. Do not place old resentments on new relationships, and try to avoid resenting yourself.

Avoiding Temptation

One of the best things a recovering addict – as well as friends and family members of recovering addicts – can do to avoid temptation is to be aware of the triggers that cause relapse. In addition to the factors listed above, there are several other common relapse triggers, including but not limited to:

•    Having drugs or alcohol readily available or being in situations where they are readily available.
•    Parties and celebrations.
•    Guilt.
•    Physical injury.
•    Impatience with recovery.

While relapses do happen, keeping these factors and advice in mind can be a great tool in avoiding temptation and continued relapse in the future.

This Post was written and contributed by Ricky Stanton.  Ricky has over 10 years of experience helping people with their drug and drug rehab programs.  He hopes to continue to help educate others about the dangers of drug and alcohol addictions.

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2 Responses to “The Most Common Causes of Relapse”
  1. Dan Voss says:

    Change really starts from oneself. If you don’t have enough will to finally part from the habit, no matter how supportive, patient and encouraging the people around you are, you’ll still relapse. But that doesn’t discount the importance of a solid support system. They’re as important as your will to change.

    • Jon W says:

      You are absolutely right. No matter what the addiction, or how much support someone has, The first step to being able to walk away from the habit, or prevent the relapse is a “True” desire to quit. No one can give you that, it is something you have to find for yourself.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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