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5 Most Common Reasons for Drug Relapse

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

5 Most Common Reasons for Drug Relapse cover

It is a fact that relapse is a part of many people’s recovery stories. It is not simply a tragic failure to get sober when a person relapses. In truth, many successful addiction recovery stories include one or more relapses. The distinction lies in how a relapse occurs – and how a person handles it afterwards. In the context of a supportive environment, such as a sober living home, relapse is considerably less likely. This is because individuals in sober livings are consistently working to develop new skills and healthy lives in sobriety. In the event that a relapse does occur, residents are prepared to bounce back. Moreover, they can learn more about their addiction – and become better prepared to fight future triggers.

Recognizing the reality of relapses is an important part of recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Individuals with substance use disorders have high rates of relapse. 65% to 70% of people quitting alcohol relapse within the first year, with the vast majority of these relapses occurring within the first three months of sobriety. Everyone’s triggers from relapses are unique, since no one drinks for entirely the same reasons. However, there are some broad categories of experiences and triggers that do seem to increase the likelihood of a slip. Recognizing what these triggers are is critical for anyone who hopes to learn to cope with them in healthier ways. Below is a list of the 5 most common triggers that lead to addiction relapse.

Mental Health Problems and Relapse

Drug addiction and alcoholism are both classified as mental health conditions. The fact is, many people with these conditions have other mental health issues as well. In the United States, over 9 million adults have comorbid mental health disorders alongside their substance use disorders. Substance abuse is for many a way of self-medicating and treating the symptoms of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This means that when a person stops taking drugs or drinking alcohol, these symptoms may become more intense. When this happens, it is crucial to get help for one’s mental health struggles.

Addressing the underlying mental health problems behind a substance use disorder is not only a great way to prevent relapse, it is a critical component of building a new and joyful life in sobriety.

Locations that Trigger Relapse

For many individuals, drug and alcohol abuse is tightly associated with specific locations and places. These may include liquor stores, bars, wineries, casinos, strip clubs, and music venues. The specific locations that can trigger a relapse vary considerably depending on a person’s individual history. Any spot where a person regularly abused drugs or alcohol is likely to be a trigger. The effect of being in a certain location may not even consciously register in a person’s mind. The impact of certain surroundings can unconsciously create a certain mood or cause a person too engage in certain habits that eventually trigger them to relapse.

During the early days of recovery, it is generally best to avoid these locations entirely. Fortunately, sober living houses solve this problem entirely by providing residents with an entirely new space where they can focus all of their attention and energy on getting sober.

New Relationships and Relapse

Many addiction counselors recommend that people who are trying to get sober stay away from sex and dating for the first few months – or even a year. The reason behind this is that people in early recovery tend to fill the void left by drugs and alcohol with sex and intimacy, which can create dangerous relationship patterns.

Moreover, dating and intimacy often revolved heavily around drug and alcohol abuse for many. It may be impossible to imagine having sex or going on a date without a few drinks. The pressure of the situation may make it feel almost impossible to say “no.” Lastly, relationships can be a source of major emotional turmoil. The joy of falling in love – as well as the despair associated with a breakup – can both be driving forces behind a return to drinking or drug abuse.

Social Isolation and Relapse

Many addiction experts refer to addiction as a “disease of loneliness.” This term is based on the anecdotal observation that people often turn to drugs and alcohol because they are lonely – and also because one of the major consequences of addiction is the destruction of important relationships with friends and family members. When people are new to sobriety, they often discover that their social life is in tatters. The few friends they do have may turn out to be mere drinking buddies – not true friends at all. The despair of loneliness can be a major factor behind a relapse.

For this reason, it is crucial to develop a new friend group and social support system. Moving into a sober living house can be a great idea, because residents are instantly connected with a group of likeminded people who are working toward the same goal: recovery. Making friends in sobriety not only helps people stay sober, it also provides them new sources of fun and fulfillment that make sobriety feel actually worthwhile.

Pink Clouds and Relapse

It may come as a surprise to learn that many people relapse in early sobriety precisely because they feel so good. Many individuals experience what is referred to as a “pink cloud” during their first few weeks or months of sobriety. Being on a “pink cloud” means that a person is experiencing euphoria from their newfound sobriety. They may be excited as they notice all the benefits of a life free from the pull of drugs and alcohol.

Looking toward their bright future, they may have begun fantasizing about all that it holds for them. Being free from withdrawal symptoms or clear-headed for the first time in years, life may seem wonderful. While this state of mind is obviously the result of getting sober, many people mistake the feeling for a sense of their own omnipotence. They may feel that after a few weeks of sobriety, they are totally “cured” of their addiction. This pride and confidence can easily lead to relapse – and it is in many ways more dangerous than suffering and pain.

Self-Care and Relapse

Learning how to take care of yourself is a crucial aspect of addiction recovery. Proper self-care not only increases your confidence and self-esteem, it also sends a message to the outside world that you are an upstanding member of society. It sends a message to yourself as well. If you don’t take care of yourself or your personal space, you may end up accidentally convincing yourself that you don’t care what happens to you.

During years of active addiction, you may have ignored many aspects of self-care while you focused on your single-minded pursuit of the next high or drunk. During early recovery, you can change your habits by learning how to follow a proper diet, groom yourself, and keep your space organized. Even something as simple as making the bed every day in the morning can serve as a symbolic ritual that keeps you grounded in sobriety.

Preventing Relapse in Sober Living Homes for Men in Los Angeles

Sober livings in Los Angeles are invaluable tools for anyone who wants to prevent themselves from relapsing. Whether you enroll in a sober living immediately or use it as an aftercare strategy after attending a treatment center, sober living houses are important for developing the tools and behaviors that you need to stay sober over the long term.

Residents build new relationships and form social support systems. Staff members address issues right away and ensure that all residents get connected to any resources they may need, from mental health services to career planning.

For this reason, a sober living home is not only a safe and comfortable place away from relapse triggers, it is also a space where people can build new lives for themselves.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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