What are the Reasons Relapse May Occur?

For addicts going through the recovery process, most have been told something along the lines of “relapse is a part of recovery.” Is relapse part of the recovery process? The simple answer is no. Many individuals in recovery find success the first time around. However, alcoholics and drug addicts may experience a relapse, or multiple, when attempting to get clean and sober from their drugs of choice. Relapsing can be devastating to addicts themselves, but can also take a toll on the loved ones that surround them. This article is meant to inform those who suffer from addiction and their friends and family different reasons why this may continue happening, and how to deal with relapse as it comes.

Why Does an Addict Relapse?


Addiction is unpleasant (to say the least) for the person suffering and their loved ones. Many people wonder what is the cause of addiction. Debated by some, addiction is a disease that results in changes to the brain from continued substance abuse. Addiction is not a disease that develops overnight; we generally pass through a series of phases that begin with experimenting and partying from time to time, gradually developing into loss of control regarding our substance intake.

Our substance use, be it alcohol or drugs, becomes compulsive and renders us acting irrational and abnormal. After an addict has been sober for some time the tendency to relapse is very strong. The data shows that each time you try to stay sober your likelihood of gaining lasting sobriety increases.

How our Brains Work in Conjunction With Addiction Relapse

Our brains contain complex reward systems, developed over time and evolved to help us pursue the things necessary to our survival (i.e. food, reproduction, etc). Our frontal lobes (the part of our brain that develops last and is crucial in our ability to predict, reason, and create) help us weigh the consequences of our impulses. When this system is functioning in conjunction with one another it helps us to make better decisions for ourselves.

However, in an addict it is as if our reward systems do not communicate properly with the frontal lobe in a cohesive and logical way. Our sensitive reward system can be triggered very easily causing us to crave drugs or alcohol. To sum it up, our minds don’t allow us to think the consequences of our actions through clearly, even after some time in recovery has passed.

Can you cure a drug addict? Many addicts believe their disease is one that will last forever, but this notion isn’t true. Thankfully, addiction is a disease that can be successfully treated. Education is key in kicking addiction. That’s why it’s so important to seek out the resources and information about different treatment options

Warning Signs of a Potential Relapse

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  • Excusing unhealthy behaviors – after some time passes it can become easier to slow down on internal growth and honest self-appraisal.  This happens so subtly that we don’t always notice when this is happening.  Then after some time we begin to justify the behaviors that risk our sobriety and increase our chances of relapse. We know in our hearts the behaviors are wrong yet we do them anyway.  This leads us to feelings of shame, anxiety, guilt etc…
  • Obsessing about work, money, or a romantic interest – These are good things for us to have in our lives.  The key is to learn not to obsess, and let these distract us from our primary goal of staying sober and learning to love ourselves.
  • Unhealthy spending habits – This is something that many addicts and alcoholics struggle with early in recovery.  Being irresponsible with our finances can lead to a heavy burden on our lives.  This is not conducive to the new life we are trying to lead and can produce more stress and anxiety.
  • Elevated levels of stress and anxiety – Most people that suffer from addiction are not monitoring this effectively in their early recovery. Therefor they cannot intervene on this in a healthy manner.  This can lead to the thought process of “a drink or a drug sounds like a good idea.”
  • Isolating – Because we as addicts have a tendency to  experience difficulty in monitoring our behavior and being honest with ourselves about the impact of that behavior, we need a sober social network and support system to help us see the truth. A sober social network can help us see how we are truly doing internally, and help us redirect the driving force of those behaviors into a healthy and more productive outlet.  We don’t do this alone and the beautiful thing about recovery is that we do not have to.
  • Romanticizing and glorifying your addiction – It is very easy for us to fall into this way of thinking, our minds remember the good times we had throughout our addiction, which there were plenty of.  If we didn’t enjoy it for so long before our lives came crashing down we would not have kept using drugs or drinking.  It can be difficult to remember the hangovers, withdrawals, lying, isolation, loneliness and pain we experienced that led us to try and get sober in the first place.  Make no mistake about it, it starts with a lot of fun but when the party is over, it is over.
  • Being a pessimist and forecasting negatively for your life – No one likes to feel depressed and hopeless.  Being honest and in touch with the real challenges that are ahead of us, while maintaining optimistic about those outcomes helps us to function more effectively. Having foresight for our futures, and believing we can be successful is key.  “those who believe they can, and those who believe that cannot are both usually right.”

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction please call Pathfinders Recovery Center today and speak with one of our founders directly.  You are not alone, and there is hope.

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