If you or someone you know has battled addiction, you may be all too familiar with the relapse process. Oftentimes, people in recovery will stop taking care of their mental health, begin isolating from their support group, and battle with thoughts of drinking or using drugs before they physically pick up a substance. Then, after a relapse, people often battle feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. They may even spend a lot of time beating themselves up and asking, “how did I let this happen?”

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Although relapse isn’t a requirement for everyone in recovery, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 40-60% of people with substance use disorder will relapse at least once in their recovery. And, while it’s easy to focus on the negatives of relapse, it can be seen as a learning experience. After a relapse, people can examine what provoked their return to substance abuse and how to cope with that situation if it happens again in the future.

Some of the most common causes of relapse include:

Stress

Mental health

Dishonesty

Overconfidence

Self-pity

Let’s take a look at each of these four things to understand why they can lead to relapse.

Stress

Stress is a common trigger for people in recovery. When stressed out, people may be more likely to reach for a drink or a drug to help calm their nerves. However, stress is a completely normal human reaction, and attempting to numb this natural reaction with substances is dangerous and unproductive.

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Mental Health

Nearly 50% of people who seek treatment for substance abuse also meet the criteria for mental health diagnosis. Whether a person is struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or any other mental health condition, it can be terribly difficult to maintain sobriety if the individual is not taking care of their mental health. Symptoms like depression and anxiety are known to increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction as well as relapse rates.

Dishonesty

The disease of addiction is one that is riddled with lies and manipulation. Even though it may seem simple, breaking that habit isn’t always easy just because someone has put the substances down. However, someone who lies in sobriety may struggle to admit the truth about their problem, be unable to take responsibility for past wrongdoings, and ultimately remain trapped in their addiction. This is why so many recovery support groups focus on the honesty of the members.

Overconfidence

Self-confidence is important, and while some people struggle with their self-esteem or confidence, others become overly confident in their abilities to stay sober. These individuals may assume they are in control over their addiction or that they will always be able to say “no.” Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and being too confident can lead to irrational thoughts, distorted thinking, and a relapse.

Self-Pity

Feeling sorry for oneself is normal from time to time, however, when self-pitying thoughts become obsessive and toxic, it can begin to take a toll on someone’s mental health. Self-pity can even alter thought processes and a person may rationalize taking a drink or using a drug to feel better. Getting caught in negative thought patterns is dangerous – and self-pity is the worst of all.

Staying Sober with Relapse Prevention Planning

If you truly want to stay sober and avoid relapse, it’s important to consider the common causes of relapse, plus your personal triggers, and use those to create a relapse prevention plan . Relapse prevention plans outline step-by-step processes that you will go through on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order to stay on top of your recovery, take care of your mental health, and maintain your sobriety.

Relapse prevention plans may consist of outpatient counseling, sober living homes, 12-step participation, peer support, and more. Whatever the case may be, remember that everyone is unique and can benefit from different therapeutic interventions.

If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of returning to drug or alcohol use, contact a trusted friend, family, member, or treatment provider for help immediately. Your well-being, happiness, and life aren’t worth the next high – and help is available.

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