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What are the Biggest Causes of Relapse?

Relapse is extremely common in addiction recovery. Someone goes through detox and treatment, everything seems to be going well, then suddenly he’s relapsed and has to start all over. It’s terribly discouraging, and sometimes dangerous because your tolerance drops after a period of sobriety. What derails a promising recovery?

To some  extent, relapse shouldn’t be a surprise. The whole nature of addiction is the inability to quit. Someone struggling with addiction has a lot more practice not quitting, so quitting is bound to have some setbacks. Still, there are some common factors that lead to relapse.


This is probably the biggest one. Any kind of challenge, negative or positive, can stir up feelings of self-doubt and discomfort. For many people, drugs and alcohol were a reliable way to block out fear and anxiety, so when something stressful happens, the conditioned response is to think about using. Once you fixate on the possibility of relief, it’s hard to shake the idea. The cravings kick in and they feel like the pull is too strong. This is why it’s so important to manage stress in recovery by adopting a healthier lifestyle, including plenty of sleep and exercise, and learning strategies to manage your emotions.


This could be anything strongly associated with using. Triggers are typically people, places, or things related to whatever you were addicted to. A lot of our behaviors are automatic. We get in the car and put on our seatbelt. We might not even have to think about where we’re going. Similarly, being in certain places, around certain people triggers automatic behavior and we have to consciously stop ourselves from engaging in that behavior, which can be hard. Sensory triggers can be especially powerful. Catching a whiff of alcohol or smoke can vividly recall past experiences of using. Sometimes seemingly innocuous sensations can do the same thing–a certain perfume, or song, for example. That’s why it’s important to know your triggers and even if you can’t always avoid them, be aware of how they affect you.


It’s a little counterintuitive, but people often say happy times are even more dangerous than sad or stressful times. They often say they feel happy times could be happier if they were still using. Also, when things are going well, you feel like you have everything under control, including your addiction, and that can lead to taking unnecessary risks. Finally, good times often lead to celebrations, which typically include alcohol. People often fall victim to the “special occasion” fallacy, especially if things have been going well for a while. Therefore, celebrations are a time to exercise special caution.

There are many possible causes of relapse. You can avoid many of them if you plan ahead, but sometimes they jump out at you. Always reach out to people who support you when you feel stressed, encounter a trigger, or even have a stroke of good luck. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.