Peeling Back the Layers of Addiction

Three triggers for a potential relapse.

Posted May 13, 2020

There is a lot of information available about the stressors and triggers that can result in a relapse for an addict in recovery. However, sometimes the underlying causes of relapses are also a part of the way the addict sees himself or herself. This may include emotional issues such as low self-esteem, people-pleasing, approval-seeking, and the need for validation.  

Understanding how these issues, including low self-esteem, approval-seeking, and people-pleasing behaviors can trigger a relapse is a crucial part of preventing relapses during addiction recovery. 

Low Self-Esteem 

In a study completed by Hamid Reza Alavi, 283 individuals with a history of addiction, theft, and prostitution currently in prison were compared to a sample of 100 people in the community without this history.

The study found that low self-esteem was a key indicator of the combination of addiction, theft, and prostitution. The lower the individual rated her level of self-esteem, the higher the risk of addictive behaviors. At the same time, other factors such as loss of employment, distance from the family, and lack of support during the addiction also contributed to the low self-esteem. 

People with a history of addiction have typically experienced isolation, loss of family and friendships, as well as the possibility of the loss of a job. Addicts may have engaged in other negative or illegal behaviors during their addiction. This further lowers their self-esteem and triggers the use of alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. Failing to address low self-esteem creates a vulnerability that can trigger relapse. 

People-Pleasing and Approval-Seeking Behaviors 

While people-pleasing may help to get an addict into a recovery program, it can also be a potential issue for relapse. Recovering addicts focused on pleasing others do not speak up about their concerns or feelings. They may be more susceptible to going along with others, even if it means engaging in addictive behaviors. 

During recovery, learning how to say "no" to potential issues that increase the risk of a relapse is a must. Saying no may include limiting contact with people who are still addicted or use alcohol or drugs. 

Approval seeking behaviors are similar in nature to people-pleasing actions. In these situations, the addict looks to external sources of approval. When these individuals are counterproductive to recovery and sobriety, it can become challenging for the addict to avoid the trap of using again to obtain approval or to fit in the group. 

The Need for Validation 

Validation, like approval, should be internal and not based on the thoughts and words of other people. When addicts are more focused on how they are seen by others, they are not focused on the internal changes needed for a life of sobriety. 

Individuals with validation issues are vulnerable to outside influences, particularly by partners. When partners withhold validation, it creates anxiety and distress, both of which can be triggers for relapse. 

Working closely with an addiction counselor or therapist to identify potential challenges or triggers for relapse during recovery is an essential part of the process. Learning about yourself helps to prepare for these challenges while reducing the risk of a relapse now and in the future. 


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Hamid Reza Alvai, P. (2011). The Role of Self-esteem in Tendency towards Drugs, Theft and Prostitution. Addiction & Health, 119-124.

Marisa Crane, B. (2019, November 25). What Are The Traits Of An Addictive Personality? Retrieved from American Addiction Centers: