Why Do Addicts Relapse When Things Are Good?

Written by Jackie Calkins

Why Do Addicts Relapse When Things Are Good?


A common question among friends and family of those who have done the work and achieved sobriety: Why relapse when things are going well? 

It can seem like a mystery from the outside, but the reality of substance use disorders is that they are lifelong diseases. 


Reasons for Relapse When Things Are Good


There are many potential reasons for someone to return to drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the most common causes include the following: 

  • Stagnation. Adjusting to a calm lifestyle can be difficult when you’ve become accustomed to the chaos drug abuse causes. During early recovery, when everything is going smoothly, some individuals may feel a lack of adventure or a lack of excitement they felt during their time abusing substances. And may even start to romanticize their old life. 
  • Lack of awareness. Some people may become overconfident after exiting an inpatient program at the start of recovery. This can lead to missing meetings and no longer engaging with your support community. 
  • Self-sabotaging. Many people who struggle with substance abuse also have issues with low self-esteem. While this is addressed to an extent in most treatment programs, these kinds of issues often take more time to resolve. When, deep down, someone doesn’t truly believe they deserve a happy, healthy life, they can begin to spiral and reach for substances again. 


Signs of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Relapse 


No behaviors change overnight. Generally, relapse happens in three stages, as a chain reaction, where one stage leads to the next. If someone doesn’t catch themselves in the early stages of relapse, they’re more likely to spiral into the further stages. 


The three stages of relapse include: 


  1. Emotional Stage

Emotions are the spark that catches the fire of the relapse process. During the emotional stage, your shadow emotions will start to come out. This happens as a response to feeling alone, suffering a loss, or experiencing high stress and anxiety levels. 

The best way to avoid this is to have honest check-ins with yourself regularly. You could also: 


  1. Mental Stage

If your emotions are left unchecked, the mental phase will follow. During this stage, you start to glorify your past addictive behaviors, which can lead to daydreaming about obtaining the substance of abuse and intense cravings. It’s possible to stop addiction at this stage with proactive action. 

Here are some things to try: 

  • Sharing your struggle with a support group 
  • Talking to your sponsor about it 
  • Develop a self-care plan (running, working out, joining a gym, finding a nature trail to walk) 


  1. Physical Stage

The final stage is when someone goes out and gets drugs or alcohol and consumes them again—relapse. Shame and guilt are likely to arise during this time. It’s vital not to let these feelings override your willingness to ask for help and re-enroll in treatment. 


How To Handle a Relapse 


A relapse prevention plan is a crucial part of a recovery plan. You’ll work to create a list of triggers unique to you and the actions that you can take if they spur you to relapse. 

Knowing that you have not failed is the best way to handle a relapse. Anytime a relapse occurs, it can be processed through further treatment. Every relapse is a lesson; identifying and revisiting these experiences can help people prepare and move forward. 


Myths and Facts About Relapse and Addiction 


It’s a common misconception that people only turn to substance abuse to avoid feeling bad. Believing that good times can safeguard sobriety directly ignores the root of the problem. Very few people want to derail their lives with addiction. 

The truth is that substance abuse re-writes brain chemistry and causes someone to no longer be their authentic self. It is possible to achieve recovery, but that recovery is hard-won and a daily choice. 


What to Do After a Relapse 


It’s essential to remember relapse happens. It’s okay, and it’s not your fault. Don’t let the setback of a relapse cause you to lose out on your invested effort. The sooner you ask for help, the better. 

Call JourneyPure at the River today at (615) 410-9260 if you or a loved one is in a relapse pattern. We’re here to help you stay accountable for the life you want to live and truly deserve. 



National Library of Medicine – Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

Treatment and Recovery