Top 11 Reasons for Drug Relapse

There are a million and one unique reasons why people who struggle with an addiction relapse. I asked a group of people, who are in substance abuse recovery, what caused them to relapse. Admittedly, it was a small sample size and not a scientific study. However, they identified eleven things that caused them to backslide in the past, or reasons why they would be vulnerable to relapsing in the future.  Some of their answers surprised me.

Here’s their list:

1. Grief and Loss. Sometimes the devastation of grief is overwhelming, causing a desire to numb emotions.

2. Environment (housing, unemployment, drug buddies). Without the ability to escape a drug environment, it is almost impossible not to give in to the temptation to abuse your favorite substance. Oftentimes a drug user lacks the resources to find stable housing and jobs because they may have a drug related legal charge. A relocation to an area away from your familiar drug environment may be required in order to avoid drug contacts.

3. Reward. Faulty thinking can cause someone to believe they deserve a reward for good behavior. Drug use is their preferred reward. They hope they can moderately use substances, only to find themselves back in the thick of their addiction.

4. Your Partner is a Drug User. Love can cause you to stay in a relationship that may not be good for you. It takes a strong person with high motivation for recovery to choose recovery over a lover.

5. Overwhelming Stress. Poor coping skills can interfere with recovery, in that the addict will be overwhelmed and turn to the easy solution: their favorite drug.

6. Abuse or Trauma. PTSD, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse can cause a desire to numb emotions and forget painful memories.
7. Pain Relief (withdrawal symptoms, emotional or physical pain). Opiate addicts, in particular, are subject to severe withdrawal symptoms, causing people to do anything to avoid this pain. They know that a quick solution is an opiate pill or heroin. Even after a period of drug abstinence, they are vulnerable to relapse if they suffer an injury or surgery and are prescribed more painkillers.

8. Drinking. Although some drug addicts may not have had a problem with alcohol, alcohol can be a gateway to drugs. It can lower inhibitions leading them to use their drug of choice. Or, alcohol can increase one’s self-confidence making them think they can be a moderate drug user.

9. Revenge (oppositional defiance). Some people may use drugs in order to “get even” when they are angry, feel controlled or are criticized.

10. Not Being Fully Committed. Until the addict is fully committed to recovery, they may be subject to multiple failed treatment attempts.

11. Self-Sabotage. Some people may be overcome by guilt or not believe they deserve a stable life. They may find recovery and change too difficult. They may be comfortable with a familiar routine and want to keep it.

If you are struggling with an addiction, identify your top reasons for relapse and create a detailed prevention plan for each reason. If you would like to listen to these people discuss their reasons for relapse, go to

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