Why Does a Person in Recovery Relapse?

Relapse is more likely than not to occur with a person in recovery from addiction at least once. It is not an inevitability but the risk is fairly high due to the nature of addiction. The hardest part can be to watch a loved one struggle to stay clean and sober following treatment. Learn about why relapse happens in recovery and how to support a loved one through the experience.


Why Relapse Happens

Dopamine is released when drugs enter the brain which creates a pleasurable feeling. Euphoric feelings keep a person attached to the drug, going back time and again to feel the high but eventually becoming addicted on a physiological level. As drug use increases, the brain becomes used to the large concentrations of dopamine while simultaneously destroying dopamine receptors in the brain. The brain eventually finds it difficult to achieve any good feelings without presence of the drug. Eventually, the brain can recover but cravings may persist for weeks or months post withdrawal. Additionally, facing the repercussions of addiction can make a person want to numb the feelings with drugs.


Chances of Relapse

The brain and body are affected by drug abuse. In most cases, a person’s life has been turned upside down for some time following addiction which creates a sense of low self-worth and confidence. The following factors can increase the likelihood of relapse:


  • Stressful situations. New ways need to be learned for handling stress, negative moods and life experiences without drugs or alcohol. Long-term success is most likely with professional help or guidance
  • Celebration. Celebrating holidays, birthdays or other events can trigger cravings to use at a time when drugs or alcohol may have been used to cope with holidays. Likewise, holidays can be a trigger for drug use.
  • Drug related cues. Recovering from addiction is hard when certain places, sights, sounds or smells remind a person of days using drugs or alcohol. Triggers of cravings can feel difficult to ignore.
  • Not heeding doctor’s advice. The person with addiction may not attend meetings or follow-up appointments which can lead to falling back into old patterns.
  • Lack of motivation. If person in recovery has gone through treatment but not reached a state of wanting to change, it is more likely the person will relapse. Once the person accepts the need for change, things can turn around.



Avoiding Relapse

The following tips can be helpful to avoid relapse. Family, friends and other loved ones may be able to support recovery by:

  • Getting educated on recovery process and challenges
  • Provide a sober environment (entire household must be abstinent)
  • Seek help from Al-Anon or other groups to help families of loved ones with addiction
  • Assist loved one with recovery support needs to build momentum and give the loved one hope


Recovery can be a difficult journey but the right treatment and support, long-term recovery is possible with the help of family, friends and loved ones.


When a loved one relapses, it can feel overwhelming. Contact The Villa to find out how we can support your loved one’s journey back to recovery from addiction.