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Why Do Some People Relapse Multiple Times?

Updated: Jan 18


Substance use disorder is something that requires constant and lifelong management of the symptoms. Because of this, sometimes people with substance use disorder recovered, and people with alcohol use disorder relapse. Relapse is defined as an individual returning to substance use after a period of abstinence. According to studies regarding individuals who had previously sought substance use treatment, between 40-60% of recovering people with substance use disorder relapse at least once.

Staying sober is not a simple task, especially when life keeps getting complicated. And, unfortunately, some people relapse multiple times. Individuals must take time, practice recovery tools, and completely commit to their recovery to avoid relapse. Additionally, individuals must know what could trigger them to relapse and take preventative methods as a precaution.

What Causes People to Relapse multiple times?

Unfortunately, finishing a substance use disorder treatment program does not guarantee an individual will remain sober long-term. Sometimes, individuals have no choice but to return to the same environment where they misused substances once completing treatment. Certain people, places, and things from an individual’s past can cause them to experience strong urges or cravings to use drugs and alcohol.

Additionally, one’s risk of relapse may increase depending on the duration of their substance use disorder. For example, individuals who were addicted to a substance for years have a higher chance of relapsing than an individual who only used drugs for one year. Here are the leading causes of relapse.

Triggers

Triggers are described as thoughts, feelings, sensations, or relationships that cause someone to drink or use drugs. In other words, triggers can be anything that makes someone want to misuse substances to avoid uncomfortable feelings or memories. For example, walking past a store that an individual used to buy alcohol from may trigger them to relapse. Additionally, if an individual feels an emotion that used to cause them to use alcohol or drugs, this could be a trigger for them to relapse. Other triggers may include attending social functions with alcohol or drugs, being around friends who use drugs, and much more.

Not Utilizing Available Resources After Leaving Rehab

Typically, treatment plans include aftercare planning, which instructs the former patient to seek additional help. This may include attending weekly therapy sessions, self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and even living at a sober living home. Unfortunately, many people neglect to follow their aftercare plans. Because of this, individuals do not continue receiving the care and support they need to remain drug-free. Failing to utilize the help offered after rehab is one of the reasons many people relapse several times.

Fatigue

Dealing with constant physical or mental exhaustion can begin to affect everyday tasks. The stress of being too tired to perform daily responsibilities can become too much. As a result, individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort.

Depression

Depression is a mental health condition that co-occurs with substance use disorder frequently. Some symptoms of depression include:

  • Hopelessness

  • Decreased levels of energy

  • Significant appetite fluctuation

  • Guilt

  • Irritability

  • Loss of interest

  • Feelings of worthlessness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Feelings of anxiousness

  • Sleeping too much or sleeping too little

The symptoms of depression may cause individuals to use drugs or alcohol to cope.

Physical Pain

Relapse is not only caused by mental conditions but physical conditions as well. Individuals who experience a high level of pain may go to a doctor and get a prescription for painkillers. When the person takes their opioid prescription, they may begin to overuse them to self-medicate. On the other hand, if the individual cannot get painkillers prescribed, they may turn to the streets to soothe their pain, causing a relapse. Unfortunately, chronic physical pain that doesn’t respond to treatment is another reason why some people relapse several times.

Dishonesty

Oftentimes, individuals in recovery are dishonest about their feelings. This may cause them to allow feelings of anger or resentment to build up. When these feelings build-up, the individual will not know how to deal with such strong emotions. This can cause them to relapse to temporarily heal the emotional pain they are facing.

Self-Pity

People in recovery are not used to living a life without parties, late nights out on the town, and relaxing with a glass of wine after work. Because of this, they may begin to feel jealous of their non-sober friends. This may lead to feelings of self-pity. When recovering people with substance use disorder begin to feel sorry for themselves, they may relapse to deal with their uncomfortable feelings.

Unemployment

According to studies, unemployment has been found to increase one’s chances of relapse. This is because binge drinking and substance use are more common among unemployed individuals. Additionally, unemployment is a risk factor for substance use disorder. Unemployment causes financial stress, which is a huge trigger for self-medication through drugs, alcohol, and other coping mechanisms.

Preventing Relapse

Whether a person relapses once or multiple times, it’s important to view relapse as a learning experience. Try to identify the causes of the relapse and what can be changed to prevent future relapse. Having hope and staying accountable is imperative to one's success in preventing relapse.

To prevent relapse from occurring, recovering persons with substance use disorder must stay on top of their sobriety maintenance techniques. This means maintaining a therapy routine, attending sobriety meetings, and staying in touch with sober supports. Additionally, individuals should identify their triggers and develop healthy "coping" mechanisms to utilize when cravings and urges arise.

Additional tips for preventing relapse include:

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Eating a balanced diet

  • Self-care

  • Exercising regularly

  • Utilizing holistic therapy techniques like yoga or meditation

  • Staying mindful

  • Avoiding caffeine

  • Attending therapy and counseling sessions

  • Attending sober support groups

  • Avoiding people, places, and things that remind you of substance use

  • Surrounding yourself with positive and sober people

  • Asking for help when you need it

  • Ask a counselor to help you create an individualized relapse prevention plan

If you or a loved one have relapsed several times and struggles to stay sober, contact Caledonia Recovery Homes today. We can help you gain the tools you need to maintain lifelong sobriety.

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