5 Most Common Causes for Drug and Alcohol Relapse

causes of relapse

The road to recovery is long and fraught with challenges. It requires a great deal of discipline, self-reflection, and patience with oneself in order to achieve and maintain long-term sobriety. If you have committed yourself to the life-changing work of conquering their addiction, you likely started by detoxing off of either drugs or alcohol which is an incredible feat in and of itself.

Because recovery is such an important achievement, it can be so disheartening to learn that relapse rates for people in recovery are so high. A staggering 85% of people relapse within their first year of recovery.[1] While a relapse should not be considered a failure, nobody wants to go through the detox process twice.

Acknowledging the risk of relapse is one of the most important steps you can take in avoiding relapse in the future. By seeing the danger, you can identify the most common triggers of relapse and preemptively develop strategies to cope with the triggers or find ways to avoid them altogether.

Here is a list of the 5 most common causes of relapse.

1. Withdrawal

One of the most important reasons to seek out the care and guidance of a reputable rehabilitation program when quitting drugs or alcohol is the withdrawal process. This process poses serious medical risks and it is extremely challenging to weather on your own.

You deserve help and support throughout this difficult process, especially during this phase of recovery when physical symptoms and cravings might drive you to use before you’ve even given yourself a chance.

Seeking out medical detox can help to reduce the risk of relapse during this critical stage. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the post-acute symptoms of withdrawal can last for up to 18 months.[2] Continued therapy and support will be vital in maintaining your sobriety throughout the entire withdrawal process.

2.  External Factors

People, places, and things can all serve as triggers within your first year of recovery.

When considering what people might serve as triggers for you early in your journey, ask yourself: did I used to use drugs or alcohol with this person? Does this person value my safety and respect my sobriety? Does the nature of my relationship with this person cause stress or sadness that I want to mask with drugs or alcohol?

Places like bars, liquor stores, casinos, or parties can be rife with memories of past use that serve as landmine triggers. If you associate a place with drugs or alcohol, avoid those places. Similarly, objects like syringes, credit cards, pill bottles, or champagne glasses might serve as triggers for you.

While not all of these triggering people, places, and things can be avoided altogether, acknowledging your discomfort, exploring its source, and developing an action plan (like calling your sponsor, or another supportive friend who can help to distract you) when presented with such instances is important in maintaining your recovery.

3. Uncomfortable Emotions

If you, like many who struggle with drug or alcohol dependency, were using substances to mask strong feelings then you will likely find those feelings triggering when confronted with them once you return to your “real life.”

Sitting with your newfound feelings in sobriety can be one of the most powerful triggers for you early on. You can no longer count on drugs or alcohol to numb your loneliness, your sadness, your feelings of emptiness, your anger, or even your tiredness. These feelings are unpleasant, but they’re a natural part of the human experience.

Shutting them out is unhealthy and painful as it sometimes may be it’s important to become aware of, accept, feel, and cope with your emotions. Therapy and mindfulness practices like meditation can be helpful in learning how to live with full access to your feelings; the good and the bad. 

4. Boredom and Isolation

Early in recovery, you may feel as if there is a void in your life that drugs once filled. Most of your socialization and recreation likely centered around the use of drugs or alcohol and it can be difficult to figure out how to replace those old activities so that you’re not left at home staring at the wall or endlessly watching TV.

That’s why it’s important to build a support network upon leaving your rehabilitation center. 12-step programs and other support groups can be a great way to build a new social circle where the fellowship does not center around the use of drugs or alcohol.[3] Having this social support can allow you the time and space in your recovery process to discover new hobbies and passions like cooking, running, reading, writing, or volunteering.

5. Pride and Overconfidence

Maybe while reading this you’ve been thinking to yourself, “This is great advice…for someone else. But I’m never going to relapse.” Of course, being confident in your recovery is important. But at the end of the day, no one is immune to the risk of relapse, not even someone with 20 years of sobriety under their belt.

Diligence and mindfulness are vital for everyone at every stage of recovery. No matter how far along you are in your journey, it is wise to avoid anything and anyone that does not unequivocally support your sobriety.

Learn How to Prevent the Most Common Causes of Relapse at Moving Mountains Recovery Center

Whether you are struggling to maintain your sobriety or trying to achieve it for the first time, at Moving Mountains Recovery in New Jersey our goal is to help you create a life so full of adventure and passion that you will never need to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope ever again. Don’t delay any longer in obtaining the care you deserve. Call today to speak to an addiction treatment specialist.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3674771/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1555415521005523
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753023/

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