Jun 2, 2023

Top Causes of Relapse: Relapse Prevention Guide with Tips

Addiction is a chronic disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Those who struggle with addiction know that it is a lifelong battle. Even after achieving sobriety, there is always a risk of relapse. Relapse is when an individual returns to drug or alcohol use after a period of abstinence. It is a common occurrence in recovery but does not have to be inevitable. Understanding the triggers and causes of relapse can help individuals in recovery stay vigilant and prevent relapse from occurring.

What is Relapse in Addiction?

Relapse is a process, not an event. It occurs gradually, over a period of weeks or sometimes months, before an individual picks up a drink or drug. There are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. The common denominator of emotional relapse is poor self-care. Mental relapse is characterized by thoughts of using, while physical relapse is when an individual actually uses drugs or alcohol.

Importance of Understanding Relapse Triggers and Causes

It is essential for individuals in recovery to understand the triggers and causes of addiction relapse. Relapse rates for those who enter treatment for drug or alcohol addiction are quite high, with studies reflecting that about 40-60% of individuals relapse within 30 days of leaving an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center, and up to 85% relapse within the first year. By understanding what triggers relapse and developing strategies to manage those triggers, individuals can be better equipped to maintain their recovery.

Common Causes of Addiction Relapse

Emotional Triggers

Emotional triggers are feelings or emotions that can prompt an individual in recovery to return to substance use. These triggers often relate to the individual’s mental and emotional state and can be influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. Recognizing and managing these triggers is a crucial part of maintaining long-term sobriety. Let’s take a look at some of the common emotional triggers that can lead to a relapse.

Depression and Anxiety

Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can be significant triggers for addiction relapse. Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating and coping with the symptoms of their mental health conditions. It is crucial for individuals to seek professional help and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage these triggers.


Stress is one of the top causes of addiction relapse. The broad range of effects stress has on the mind and body can lead to increased cravings for drugs or alcohol. It is essential to be proactive about stress prevention and be mindful of what causes stress for each individual. Developing healthy stress management techniques, such as exercise or meditation, can help prevent relapse.

Boredom and Loneliness

Many individuals in recovery struggle with boredom and loneliness, which can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. These negative emotions can increase the risk of relapse. It is important to engage in positive activities that promote social interaction and provide a sense of purpose.

Social Triggers

Social situations and interactions can be a potent source of relapse triggers for many individuals in recovery. These triggers often involve others’ behaviors, attitudes, or actions that may incite a desire to return to substance use. Being aware of these triggers and having strategies to cope with them can significantly reduce the likelihood of relapse. We will now explore some common social triggers that can challenge an individual’s sobriety.

Social Pressure

Social pressure is another common cause of addiction relapse. Individuals may feel pressure from friends or family members to use drugs or alcohol, making it challenging to maintain sobriety. It is essential to establish boundaries and surround oneself with supportive people who understand the challenges of addiction recovery.

Peer Influence

Peer influence can also be a trigger for addiction relapse. Being around others who are using drugs or alcohol can increase the risk of relapse. Individuals in recovery should avoid spending time with people who do not support their sobriety.

Environmental Triggers

The environment in which an individual lives and spends time can significantly impact their recovery journey. Environmental triggers are circumstances, objects, or places that remind an individual of their past substance use, prompting cravings and potentially leading to relapse. Understanding and managing these triggers can provide a supportive and safe space for individuals in recovery. Let’s delve into some of the typical environmental triggers that can threaten sobriety.

Access to Drugs or Alcohol

Having access to drugs or alcohol can be a significant trigger for addiction relapse. It is important to avoid situations where drugs or alcohol are present and to establish a supportive living environment that promotes sobriety.

Familiar Places and People

Being in familiar places or around people associated with previous drug or alcohol use can trigger intense urges to use. Individuals in recovery should identify these triggers and avoid them whenever possible.

Triggers in the Home

Triggers can also be found in the home environment, such as reminders of past drug or alcohol use. It is important to create a supportive and safe living environment that promotes sobriety.

Reasons Why People Relapse

Relapse is not a random event; it is often the result of certain influences or circumstances that challenge an individual’s commitment to sobriety. Understanding the common reasons why people relapse can provide invaluable insights into maintaining recovery and preventing relapse. Various factors contribute to relapse, from inadequate support systems to untreated mental health issues. In the following section, we will examine these reasons more closely to provide a clearer picture of what can potentially trigger a relapse.

Lack of Support

Lack of support from friends and family members can be a significant cause of addiction relapse. Having a strong support system is crucial in maintaining sobriety. It is important to surround oneself with individuals who understand the challenges of addiction recovery and provide emotional support.


Feeling complacent in one’s recovery can be a significant cause of addiction relapse. Individuals may become overconfident in their ability to maintain sobriety and stop engaging in recovery-related activities. It is important to stay active in one’s recovery and continue to seek professional help and support.


Overconfidence can be a significant cause of addiction relapse. Positive life events such as getting a promotion or a new job can lead to feelings of invincibility and a desire to celebrate with drugs or alcohol. It is important to remain humble and remember that addiction is a chronic disease that requires ongoing management.

Mental Health Issues

Untreated mental health issues can be a significant cause of addiction relapse. Individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating and coping with the symptoms of their mental health conditions. It is crucial for individuals to seek professional help and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage these triggers.

Identifying and Managing Relapse Triggers

It’s important to remember that relapse is a common part of recovery. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that you can’t overcome your addiction. Sometimes certain things can trigger a relapse, like being around people who use drugs or alcohol, feeling stressed or overwhelmed, or experiencing difficult emotions.

It’s important to identify your triggers and come up with a plan for how to manage them. This might involve avoiding certain people or situations, practicing self-care techniques like meditation or exercise, or reaching out to your support network for help. Remember, recovery is a journey, and setbacks are a natural part of the process.

Recognizing Personal Triggers

One of the most effective techniques for preventing addiction relapse is to identify personal relapse triggers and make a detailed plan on how to manage them. By understanding their own triggers, individuals can be proactive in avoiding situations that may increase the risk of relapse.

Developing Coping Strategies

Developing healthy coping strategies is essential for managing addiction relapse triggers. This can include engaging in regular exercise, practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation, seeking professional help through therapy, and joining support groups.

Seeking Professional Help

Professional help from therapists, counselors, and other healthcare providers can be invaluable in managing addiction relapse triggers. These professionals can help individuals develop personalized strategies for coping with triggers and maintaining sobriety.

Creating a Support System

Building a strong support system is crucial for preventing addiction relapse. This can include friends, family members, sponsors in recovery programs, therapists, and support group members. Having a network of people who understand the challenges of addiction recovery and provide emotional support can make a significant difference in maintaining sobriety.

Preventing Addiction Relapse

Preventing relapse is an ongoing process that requires commitment, effort, and a clear strategy. Individuals in recovery need to be vigilant and proactive to maintain their sobriety successfully. This involves staying active in recovery, making lifestyle changes, seeking continued therapy, and maintaining a positive attitude, among other steps. In the subsequent section, we will discuss these preventative measures in greater detail to illustrate how individuals can equip themselves against potential relapses.

Staying Active in Recovery

Remaining active in one’s recovery is essential for preventing addiction relapse. This can include attending therapy sessions, participating in support groups, engaging in healthy hobbies and activities, and staying connected with one’s support system.

Making Lifestyle Changes

Making lifestyle changes that promote overall health and well-being can help prevent addiction relapse. This can include adopting a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, practicing good sleep hygiene, and reducing stress levels.

Continuing Therapy and Treatment

Continuing therapy and treatment is vital for maintaining sobriety and preventing addiction relapse. Ongoing therapy, aftercare programs, and support can help individuals stay accountable, address new challenges as they arise, and continue to develop healthy coping strategies.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment can help to stabilize the brain’s chemistry, curb cravings, and manage withdrawal symptoms. These medications can block the euphoric effects of alcohol or opioids, offering an additional layer of protection against relapse. It’s important to remember that these medications aren’t a substitute for drugs or alcohol; they’re tools that can help individuals manage their cravings and symptoms so they can focus on their recovery.

Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Maintaining a positive attitude is essential for preventing addiction relapse. Focusing on the benefits of sobriety, setting achievable goals, and practicing gratitude can help individuals maintain a positive mindset and reduce the risk of relapse.

Final Thoughts on Addiction Relapse

While addiction is indeed a chronic disease, relapse is not inevitable. It’s a challenging part of the journey, but with understanding, self-care, support, and appropriate treatment strategies, recovery is attainable and sustainable.

At the Massachusetts Center for Addiction, we are committed to providing comprehensive care to support you through each stage of this journey. Our team of professionals offers a wide range of services, from personalized treatment plans to medication-assisted treatment and continuous aftercare support.

If you or a loved one is grappling with addiction or seeking help to prevent relapse, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and we are here to walk with you toward a life of sobriety and wellness. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can support you in your recovery journey.

MCA Staff
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