In the realm of addiction, relapse is a return to substance use after a period of nonuse. It is common and can be expected during the difficult process of change. Between 40% and 60% of individuals relapse within their first year of treatment, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Relapse is not a sign of failed recovery. Recovery from addiction requires significant changes in lifestyle and behavior, ranging from changing friend circles to developing new coping mechanisms. It involves navigating a new and unfamiliar path.
The risk of relapse is greatest in the first 90 days of recovery, a period when sensitivity to stress is enhanced while sensitivity to reward is low and it may be tempting to fall back into familiar patterns of behavior.
Common triggers for relapse include:
- The discomfort of withdrawal symptoms.
- Unpleasant feelings including hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue.
- Feeling isolated. Being alone with one’s thoughts for too long can lead to relapse.
- Seeing old friends who still use drugs.
- Finding oneself in places associated with one's past drug use.
- Over-confidence that everything is under control.