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5 Reasons Why Drug Addicts Relapse

by Landmark Recovery

December 7, 2017
A city alley. Returning to places of former use can lead to a relapse

Addicts often relapse in addiction recovery during times when things seem to be going well in their lives. Recovery and relapse sometimes can seem like they go hand-in-hand. But this counterintuitive phenomenon can be attributed to a variety of factors that stem from the complex nature of addiction and recovery.

Why Do Addicts Relapse When Things Are Good?

Factors That Influence Relapse

One key reason is the role of complacency in recovery. When an individual is experiencing a period of stability and success, they may mistakenly believe that they have “conquered” their addiction. This false sense of security can lead to a relaxation of the coping mechanisms and support systems that were crucial to their initial recovery. As a result, they may be more susceptible to triggers that eventually cause a relapse.

Another factor is the presence of unresolved emotional issues. During periods of stability, those in recovery may feel more confident in their ability to cope with stress and negative emotions. However, if underlying emotional issues have not been addressed, they may still turn to non-medical substance use as a way to escape or numb themselves from these emotions. The illusion of stability can create a false sense of emotional resilience, masking the need for continued emotional growth and healing.

The phenomenon of “self-sabotage” can also contribute to relapses during seemingly good times. For some of those in recovery, the fear of success or the belief that they do not deserve happiness may unconsciously drive them to sabotage their own progress. This self-destructive behavior can manifest in various ways, including resuming substance use disorder, engaging in risky behaviors, or distancing themselves from their support network.

Additionally, the role of environmental triggers cannot be overlooked. An individual in recovery may be exposed to situations or people that remind them of their past substance use, even during times of stability. These triggers can evoke strong cravings and memories associated with addiction, making it increasingly difficult for the person to resist the urge to use again.

Stability’s Role

Relapses during periods of stability and success are a complex phenomenon influenced by complacency, unresolved emotional issues, self-sabotage, and environmental triggers. It is essential for those in recovery to maintain vigilance, address underlying emotional issues, and continually strengthen their support systems to minimize the risk of relapse, even during seemingly good times.

Being addicted to a substance is tough. Realizing you need help is a big step. Making that decision to go to an inpatient drug rehab or treatment center is incredibly important. Finishing a rehabilitation program is outstanding, but the hard work does not stop there. Often, individuals relapse after treatment. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but relapse does happen, more frequently than some would assume.

The reality is that addiction is a difficult thing to beat. The cravings can come back, and the individual can relapse and fall into old patterns. Some may say that individuals have control over their addiction and choose to relapse, but being addicted to drugs is not entirely like that. Drug addictions can affect individuals mentally, physically, emotionally and psychologically. It has more negative effects than users may realize before engaging with their drug of choice.

It is not enough to know that users of various drug relapse; we need to understand why they relapse. Here are five reasons why drug addicts relapse. Even though individuals may regress for multiple reasons other than these circumstances, these are very common among individuals who have relapsed.

Celebratory moments or times

A birthday cake. Sometimes celebrations or parties can trigger relapse

Think about the last time you went to a birthday party. What did you see there? Presents, cake, alcohol? This may seem okay for the average individual but put yourself in an addicts shoes. If you were a recently recovering alcoholic who just made a significant breakthrough with their sobriety, imagine how it would feel to see all your closest friends and family enjoying a delicious cocktail. Recognize that uncomfortable and jealous feeling you’re experiencing right now? Drug addicts feel the same way.

There are certain places like parties or concerts where drugs are prevalent. It is crucial that the individual thinks about where they are going and what will occur at that function. If they are going to attend a concert and they are recovering from cocaine addiction, it would be a good idea to think if cocaine will be there. If the answer is yes, it might be in the best interest of the former user to avoid this concert to avoid temptations.

Seeing the culprit of addiction

Seeing things we enjoy or love can stir emotions within us. Viewing the source of our obsession can cause various problems. We could spend months in a rehab facility and think that we are stronger than our addiction and can face anything. When we come face to face with our addictive substance or even see it on TV, for instance, can cause a rise. Just because we detox our bodies and minds does not mean that temptations won’t sneak into our minds.

Although our brain is a fantastic organ, it has an incredible way of highlighting our unconscious desires. One way that we can fall victim to these unconscious desires is in our dreams. Addicts may dream about their drug of choice or previous experiences with them, and when they wake up, they feel tempted and crave to experience that feeling again.

Sometimes it is impossible and unpredictable when we see substances, but it is highly encouraged that if the individual has previous knowledge about drugs being present at functions or friends’ homes, they need to be avoided.

Being around old locations/people of use

A city alley. Returning to places of former use can lead to a relapse

Imagine that you just got out of rehab and hadn’t been in contact with your friends for an extended period. You would miss them correct? If I had to leave my friends, I would miss them. But think to yourself. Are these people the individuals you want to surround yourself with? If they support your sobriety and inflict positive attitudes around you, then you would want to keep them around. But what about the friends you used to get high with?

They are your friends, but their intentions might not be the best. If they are still using drugs, it can be a stressor and serve as a temptation to you, even if you are sober. You may have friends that you met in rehabilitation or through a drug rehab near me search, and those are good friends to have because they know the journey you are going on. It is smart to avoid current drug users, even if they are your friends, so you don’t fall back into old habits. The same goes for locations where you used to use.

If specific sites were the places where drug use occurred, it is best to avoid them. Visiting those areas can send a rush of emotions and memories through you, even if a drug was only used there once or twice. Our brains are amazing organs and can remember events, even if they just occurred once. To maintain sobriety, it is best to avoid locations where usage happened if it is possible.


Stress is a powerful feeling and emotion that can lead us to do things we usually wouldn’t. When we stress out too much, we can increase our cortisol levels, and that can lead to prolonged health problems like high blood pressure, hypersensitivity and more. One common thing individuals do when they are stressed is to turn their attention to something they like to distract themselves. For some they might be having a meal with comfort food, while for others, they might crave the drug high they haven’t had in a while.

If the individual has recently emerged from rehab, they may have a stronger desire to have their drug of choice; if they are stressed, they might justify using as a way to calm down. Stress can come in a variety of forms but one thing that is common is the desire to eliminate stress with something that alleviates our feelings, but for drug addicts, it is necessary to find something that calms them down that won’t harm their sobriety.

Conflicting emotions

A man holding his hand over his face because he is worried about relapse

Using drugs can have an intense effect on our feelings. Certain substances can affect our brain chemistry and alter our emotions very profoundly. Sometimes individuals get involved with drugs and have a hard time asking for help, or even when they get help and are in rehab, are still struggling emotionally.

It should be understood that rehab is not easy and relapse is common. Detox is harsh, withdrawing from strong addictions are grueling and reconnecting/gaining trust with family and friends can be draining. Even though rehab is very tough, staying clean after recovery is also tough. Sometimes when we have conflicting emotions, it can upset us and confuse us. By experiencing an emotional roller coaster, we succumb to stress.

The change of environment or re-entering society sober can also cause us to feel shaken up emotionally. When our emotions are out of wack, we turn to things that are constant in our life to regulate all of the change, and for drug users, that can be their drug of choice.

Staying Strong

Avoiding relapse is tough. Everyone is rooting for you and wants you to keep your sobriety. Your support system is in your corner and understands that even though controlling your urges is tough, that you are in control. Sometimes family and friends aren’t enough, and we need to turn back to drug and alcohol rehab centers. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, and if you believe you are approaching relapse, you are better off having a head start and getting help early.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.