Substance Use

What is relapse?


Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic disease and, as with other chronic diseases, there is a risk that a person who is in recovery may relapse. In fact, more than half of all people who undergo addiction treatment experience relapse, either briefly or on a long-term basis. Women are less likely to relapse than men, and patients who actively engage in aftercare following treatment are more likely to remain sober longer than those who do not.

Although relapse is common, it is predictable and largely preventable. If relapse does occur, it does not mean that the person has failed in his or her recovery. Relapse is part of a learning process that eventually leads to recovery.

Learning to recognize the stresses and triggers helps people in recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol avoid relapse. Triggers could include:

  • Being around others who are using.
  • Being exposed to a situation that is particularly stressful, such as the death of a loved one or a job loss. Even hearing a song or meeting someone who reminds the individual of a time when they were using can trigger relapse.

Family members and friends should be aware of signs that a loved one may be heading toward relapse. Relapse signs include:

  • Decreased interest in attending support groups and meetings or “working the program”.
  • Mood swings or periods of moodiness.
  • Recurring withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or sleeplessness, which could tempt a person to self-medicate.
  • Changes in behavior, such as increased defensiveness or impulsiveness.
  • Loss of interest in social activities.
  • Loss of routine or structure.
  • Trouble making decisions or making unhealthy decisions.
  • Withdrawal from people or activities that were helping in maintaining sobriety.

Continue Learning About Recognizing Relapse

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