What Causes Substance Abuse Relapse?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 11 December 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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Addiction, particularly when it involves substance abuse, tends to be very difficult to overcome. A substance abuser generally develops both physical and behavioral habits, meaning that her body has become chemically dependent on the substance and she has become accustomed to consumption of the substance as a regular activity. For this reason, numerous things commonly trigger substance abuse relapse. These include withdrawal symptoms, a person’s environment, and lack of support.

Withdrawal symptoms can cause substance abuse relapse to occur quickly. A person may truly want to stop consuming a substance but she may not be prepared to withstand the physical effects of doing so. Depending on which substances people are addicted to, they may experience severe symptoms such as muscle cramps, vomiting, and headaches. Many people persevere for a short period but are eventually overcome by the pain.

The environment a person is in and the associates she surrounds herself with can also play a major role in substance abuse relapse. It is extremely difficult for an alcoholic to hang out in bars and not drink. Likewise, it is extremely difficult for a drug addict to live in a building where drugs are offered without acting on the urge to get high. This means that in many cases a recovering addict is forced to change her environment and abandon many or all of her friends. For many people, this is either impossible or unsustainable.


A person may manage to avoid dangerous people and places. However, the resulting boredom could result in substance abuse relapse. When people are overcoming addiction, a lot of idle time can be an enemy. During these spans of time, such individuals often think back to their substance abuse days or act on the impulse to do something by returning to substance abuse.

The lack of proper support and refusals to get support can result in substance abuse relapse. Family members often have good intentions when offering support to substance abusing kin. However, overcoming addiction can be a matter that requires the assistance of professionals. Some individuals ignore this reality, while others reject even the support of their family members. The result is that many eventually return to their substance abuse habits.

False ideas about control can be especially dangerous. A person may believe she has overcome addiction. She may have successfully managed to avoid consuming the substance for a great deal of time. She runs a high risk of relapse, however, if she convinces herself that she can begin to use the substance again in moderation.

A person who had a prescription drug addition may face such a situation if she is once again inflicted with pain or injury. Without knowing that the patient struggled with addiction, a physician may prescribe a substance that she was addicted to. Upon acceptance of the prescription, the individual is likely to relapse.



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The battle must be fought daily for most addicts. People can go years without using and then relapse due to stress, the people they associate with or a traumatic event. Conquering this demon is almost impossible without support: both personal and professional. Group therapy and psycho-educational groups which teach healthy coping skills can be quite useful in maintaining recovery.

Group therapy can be facilitated by a professional therapist or take place in the form of a support group such as a 12 step program.

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