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Why Do Some People Relapse Several Times?

Addiction is a chronic disease that requires constant and lifelong management of symptoms. Because of this, sometimes recovered addicts and alcoholics relapse. Relapse is defined as an individual returning to substance abuse after a period of abstinence. According to studies regarding individuals who had previously sought substance abuse treatment, between 40-60% of recovering addicts relapse at least once.[1]

Staying sober is not an easy task, especially when life keeps getting complicated. And, unfortunately, some people relapse several times. Individuals must take time, practice recovery tools, and completely commit to their recovery to avoid relapse. Additionally, individuals must know what could trigger them to relapse and take preventative methods as a precaution.

What Causes People to Relapse More Than Once?

Unfortunately, finishing an addiction treatment program does not guarantee an individual will remain sober long-term. Sometimes, individuals have no choice but to return to the same environment where they abused substances once completing treatment. Certain people, places, and things from an individual’s past can cause them to experience strong urges or cravings to use drugs and alcohol.

Additionally, one’s risk of relapse may increase depending on the duration of their addiction. For example, individuals who were addicted to a substance for years have a higher chance of relapsing than an individual who only used drugs for one year. Here are the leading causes of relapse.


Triggers are described as thoughts, feelings, sensations, or relationships that cause someone to drink or use drugs. In other words, triggers can be anything that makes someone want to abuse substances to avoid uncomfortable feelings or memories. For example, walking past a store that an individual used to buy alcohol from may trigger them to relapse.

Additionally, if an individual feels an emotion that used to cause them to use alcohol or drugs, this could be a trigger for them to relapse. Other triggers may include attending social functions with alcohol or drugs, being around friends who use drugs, and much more.

Not Utilizing Other Help After Leaving Rehab

Typically, treatment plans include aftercare planning, which instructs the former patient to seek additional help. This may include attending weekly therapy sessions, self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and even living at a sober living home.

Unfortunately, many people neglect to follow their aftercare plans. Because of this, individuals do not continue receiving the care and support they need to remain drug-free. Failing to utilize the help offered after rehab is one of the reasons many people relapse several times.


Dealing with constant physical or mental exhaustion can begin to affect everyday tasks. The stress of being too tired to perform daily responsibilities can become too much. As a result, individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort.


Depression is a mental health condition that co-occurs with addiction frequently. Symptoms of depression include:[2]

  • Hopelessness
  • Decreased levels of energy
  • Significant appetite fluctuation
  • Guilt
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of anxiousness
  • Sleeping too much or sleeping too little

The symptoms of depression may cause individuals to use drugs or alcohol to cope.

Physical Pain

Relapse is not only caused by mental conditions but physical conditions as well. Individuals who experience a high level of pain may go to a doctor and get a prescription for painkillers. When the person takes their opioid prescription, they may begin to overuse them to self-medicate. On the other hand, if the individual cannot get painkillers prescribed, they may turn to the streets to soothe their pain, causing a relapse. Unfortunately, chronic physical pain that doesn’t respond to treatment is another reason why some people relapse several times.


Oftentimes, individuals in recovery are dishonest about their feelings. This may cause them to allow feelings of anger or resentment to build up. When these feelings build up, the individual will not know how to deal with such strong emotions. This can cause them to relapse to temporarily heal the emotional pain they are facing.


People in recovery are not used to living a life without parties, late nights out on the town, and relaxing with a glass of wine after work. Because of this, they may begin to feel jealous of their non-sober friends. This may lead to feelings of self-pity. When a recovering addict begins to feel sorry for themselves, they may relapse to deal with their uncomfortable feelings.


According to studies, unemployment has been found to increase one’s chances of relapse.[3] This is because binge drinking and substance abuse are more common among unemployed individuals. Additionally, unemployment is a risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. Unemployment causes financial stress, which is a huge trigger for self-medication through drugs and alcohol.

Preventing Relapse

Whether a person relapses once or several times, it’s important to view relapse as a learning experience. Try to identify the causes of the relapse and what can be changed to prevent future relapse.

To prevent relapse from occurring, recovering addicts must stay on top of their sobriety maintenance techniques. This means maintaining a therapy routine, attending sobriety meetings, and staying in touch with sober supports. Additionally, individuals should identify their triggers and develop coping mechanisms to utilize when cravings and urges arise.

Additional tips for preventing relapse include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Utilizing holistic therapy techniques like yoga or meditation
  • Staying mindful
  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Attending therapy and counseling sessions
  • Attending sober support groups
  • Avoiding people, places, and things that remind you of substance abuse
  • Surrounding yourself with positive and sober people
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Ask a counselor to help you create an individualized relapse prevention plan

If you or a loved one have relapsed several times and struggle to stay sober, contact Carolina Recovery Center today. We can help you gain the tools you need to maintain lifelong sobriety. 



Medically Reviewed: August 19, 2021

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.