How Common Is Drug Relapse? Signs, Triggers & Prevention

Learn how to recognize and prevent drug relapse and how Ripple Ranch Recovery can help in this informative article.

Table of Contents

What Is Drug Relapse?

Recovering from a substance use disorder takes time. However, even with time, the process is not always linear. People can fall back into previous thoughts and behaviors about substance use. This is known as a drug relapse.

Drug Relapse

Why Do People Relapse?

There are many reasons why people relapse. One of the most common causes is experiencing a trigger. When an individual’s goal to maintain sobriety is threatened, they are in a high-risk situation. This is where the ability to practice coping skills becomes crucial. People who can cope effectively are less likely to relapse.1

Because addiction is a mental disorder, it can take time to fully understand the management skills and coping mechanisms taught in treatment. As a result, people may not always know how to handle triggering situations healthily. This can cause them to turn to substance abuse once more.

What Occurs During Relapse?

During a relapse, the focus diverts from actively following recovery goals to substance-seeking behavior. As you’ll learn below, relapse starts in the mind before it involves physical substance use. 
Although it can be discouraging to experience relapse, it is not an uncommon part of the recovery process. Around 40% to 60% of people experience at least one relapse during their recovery journey.2

What Are the Signs of a Relapse?

Because relapse starts in the mind before it manifests in substance use, there are some warning signs. Being aware of these signs and how to recognize them can aid in relapse prevention.

Some of the signs of drug relapse include
  • A sudden dislike for their recovery procedures
  • Isolation
  • Missing therapy appointments
  • Reconnection to people, places, and events associated with substance use

Stages of Relapse

It’s a common misconception that relapse happens in a split second. Relapse doesn’t occur solely through physical substance use. Instead, it begins slowly, affecting both the mind and body. Thoughts and triggers can begin consuming the mind, adding stress to the recovery process. 

There are three different stages of drug relapse, beginning with the mind and ending in a full relapse into substance use.

Emotional Relapse

The first stage of drug relapse is emotional relapse. This is often the most subtle stage, as the individual may not think about the substance at this point. Instead, they’re being confronted with triggers and uncontrolled stress. This, in turn, makes it more difficult to understand emotions and control impulses.
One of the main signs of emotional relapse is struggling with daily emotions, such as:
  • Frustration
  • Loss
  • Stress
  • Grief

Mental Relapse

If emotional relapse continues, it can lead to mental relapse. Although this stage of drug relapse doesn’t include substance use, it can be one of the most difficult to navigate. This is because mental relapse is characterized by thoughts of substance use. These thoughts can cause individuals to feel torn between continuing sobriety and achieving goals and returning to substance abuse. 

Continuing therapy and being honest about thoughts and feelings toward substance use are among the most important steps in combating mental relapse. This is because it can lead to physical relapse.

Physical Relapse

This is the stage that most people think of when discussing drug relapse. Physical relapse occurs once the individual begins using the substance again. This can cause frustration and guilt about sobriety, which creates a cycle of negative thoughts that can lead to negative behaviors. 

However, for those experiencing a physical relapse, remember that you’re not alone. Recovery isn’t linear. Continuing treatment, being honest about relapse, and opening up to your support group are of the utmost importance during this time.

How Common Are Relapses?

Experiencing a relapse during the recovery journey can feel isolating. This is especially true if group therapy or support group members do not express their struggles with the different stages of relapse. Nevertheless, despite how it may seem, drug relapse isn’t uncommon. As mentioned above, around half of the people seeking treatment for a substance use disorder experience a drug relapse.

Substance use disorder is a chronic mental disorder. Thus, like all mental disorders, there is no single, straightforward path to recovery. In fact, some studies have found that relapse is a symptom of addiction. Further, research indicates that 65% to 70% of relapses occur within the first ninety days after treatment.3

Is Relapse a Sign of Failure?

Navigating a substance use disorder is challenging. As a chronic illness, continued use and relapse are expected. Regardless of the stage, drug relapse is not a sign that the treatment has failed. It is also not a sign that you failed. Seeking recovery is a profound effort, and completely eliminating substance use permanently doesn’t always occur the first time.

What Addiction Relapse Triggers Should You Look Out for?

Several triggers can result in drug relapse, some of which may not come to mind at first. Learning to recognize these triggers can help eliminate them, increasing the rate of recovery.
Some drug relapse triggers to be aware of include:
  • Stress
  • Easy access to the substance
  • Revisiting negative connections
  • Social isolation
  • Illness
  • Major life transitions
  • Boredom

Recognizing Relapse Warning Signs

The ability to recognize drug relapse warning signs can help address relapse before it becomes physical. For many people, it can be difficult to bring up these feelings, so learning to identify them is important.
Common warning signs of drug relapse include:
  • Overconfidence
  • Significant change in attitude
  • Significant change in behavior
  • Self-imposed isolation
  • Reviving old (negative) connections
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Dishonesty

Common Risk Factors for Relapse

Typically, drug relapse doesn’t happen at random. Instead, individuals may be exposed to risk factors that elevate the chance of relapse. Some of these factors include:
  • Exposure to triggers
  • Stress
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of social support
  • Pain due to injuries, accidents, or medical issues
  • Low self-efficacy
  • Positive moods
Drug Relapse

Relapse Prevention Strategies

After learning about the signs of drug relapse and how to recognize them properly, it is possible to engage in relapse prevention strategies. These are techniques and methods geared toward helping people cope with their triggers and refocus their recovery goals.

Beneficial relapse prevention strategies include:
  • Revisit your relapse prevention plan
  • Increase meeting attendance
  • Commit to healthy routines
  • Build a sober network
  • Increase self-care practices
Social support plays a significant role in recovery and relapse prevention. Numerous studies have found that support improves treatment effectiveness and recovery outcomes. Thus, creating and maintaining a strong support network is essential. Friends, family, and support group members are excellent choices.4

Help a Loved One Cope With Addiction Relapse at Ripple Ranch Recovery

Undoubtedly, one of the most important factors of a successful recovery is support. Recognizing signs of drug relapse in your loved one can be challenging, and you may not know how to approach the topic. At Ripple Ranch Recovery, our team of experienced professionals is prepared to guide your loved one on their recovery journey, from their first treatment to relapse prevention.

Contact us today to learn more about drug relapse or the services we offer.