What Is A Relapse?

what is a relapse, relapse triggers, understanding relapse, why do relapses happen, relapse vs. slip, avoiding a relapse, relapse prevention

Understanding a Relapse

What is a relapse? This is a common question, but there are complex considerations that need to be kept in mind to really understand what it is.

Beating addiction is a challenging process. Addiction is a complex disease, and no one cure is available. Not every treatment option is going to work for every person, either. Addiction changes the chemical workings of the brain. A combination of therapy and medicine is required to begin treating addiction.

After that, follow-up treatment is normally administered. This is meant to keep people from returning to drug use. Unfortunately, because of chemical reasons, a lot of users are likely to relapse. Relapse is defined by a formerly sick person returning to sickness. This definition applies to addiction. An addict is in a period of sickness when they are abusing drugs.

Relapsing can be extremely hard to prevent. However, being familiar with the causes, triggers, and treatment options for relapsing can be the difference in preventing a long-term sober person from relapsing.


Self-treatment is a leading cause of relapse. Self-treatment occurs when a person attempts to detox from a drug without outside help. Not only is this method likely to fail, but it is also dangerous. If someone tries to go through detox on their own without professional treatment, it can even be fatal.


Another major cause of relapses is stress. While many experience stress, there is a misconception only associating stress with negativity: i.e. bill deadlines, work demands. However, stress can also arise from positive situations like a successful week of dieting or receiving a promotion at work.

For those who overcame addiction, stress was usually addressed with drug use. So, in their post-addiction lives, stressful situations have the potential to cause strong urges to use. This eventually can lead to a relapse.


Unfortunately, addicts fall into habits of lying during their addiction. Lying becomes a necessity in order to hide and fund their addiction. They become even more susceptible to lying due to chemical changes in the brain caused by drug use.

When an addiction is overcome, habits of lying still remain. It can be a vicious cycle to break. If a former user finds it difficult to stop habits of lying and dishonesty, it can negatively affect their outlook and self-image, creating a high potential for relapse.


Feeling disappointed in others due to setting high expectations is yet another cause of relapse. Overcoming addiction and making drastic behavioral changes is an impressive accomplishment. It takes dedication, perseverance, strength. Often, former addicts will transition these traits into success.

However, some may begin to hold those around them to the same expectations they place on themselves. This can lead to constant feelings of being let down by others. Continuous feelings of being let down is an ideal environment for relapse.

Relapse Triggers

Certain situations are often shown to contribute to an increased likelihood of relapse. These situations are referred to as triggers. Some common triggers include:

  • Trying to Rush Improvement: Feelings of impatience is a well-documented relapse trigger. This occurs when one expects their lives to be fulfilling and rewarding as soon as they overcome addiction.
  • Asking Too Much: This trigger occurs when an addict expects their hard work to translate into vast gains in their personal and professional success. If they begin to feel improperly rewarded, the potential for triggering a relapse increases.
  • Overestimating Ability to be Exposed to Use: This trigger often occurs later in the process of overcoming addictions. Some feel so confident in their sobriety that they expose themselves to situations where drugs and alcohol are being used. This has the potential to trigger a relapse.
  • Feeling Sorry for Circumstances: This trigger occurs when a former addict falls into feelings of pity and loathing of self. Such feelings can make one feel hopeless and lead to relapse.

Relapse triggers are a reality of the recovery process. Learning what they are has the potential to help avoid continued relapses.


Relapse is the return to a previously conquered sickness. For addiction, this comes in the form of using drugs or alcohol again. Relapses can be caused by many things, including self-treatment, stress, lying, and disappointment. These causes are not exclusive, but well documented.

Additionally, many situations can trigger a relapse. Relapse triggers include trying to rush improvement, asking for too much after recovery, overestimating ability to be exposed to drug use, and feeling sorry for circumstances. Relapse triggers cannot be avoided altogether, but knowing what they are allows them to be managed more effectively.

Relapse will always be a part of dealing with the disease of addiction. Fortunately, resources for understanding and overcoming relapses are continually growing.


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