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What are the Causes of a Relapse?

What causes a person who has successfully completed substance abuse treatment and who appears to be to be doing quite well for a period of time, to experience a drug or alcohol relapse? Missing a couple of meetings, skipping counseling, or forgetting to check in with the aftercare program director from the drug rehab center may seem harmless to a newly recovering addict; however, these types of avoidance behaviors can spiral out of control and lead to a drug or alcohol relapse.

Many times what causes a drug or alcohol relapse are situations where a former drug rehab patient experiences an overwhelming amount of negative emotions; high risk situations such as having an argument with a loved one or experiencing a family health crisis, can be particularly stressful for a person that is in the initial stages of their drug recovery process.

It is important to realize that having a difficult day is not one of the major causes of a relapse; it is instead, caused by a former addict slipping back into the world of substance abuse through their actions. When an individual who is recovering from an addiction has had thoughts about doing drugs and talked about this with his aftercare counselor at the drug rehab facility, this demonstrates a healthy coping skill and is considered to be a normal part of a successful drug recovery process.

What causes a relapse is when a recovering addict that has reached a level of abstinence, reverts back to actually using drugs again. Some individuals will go through a vicious cycle of quitting drugs, going through withdrawal, and then relapsing, over and over again; thus, destroying the addict's self-esteem and confidence in their ability to finally be able to live a drug-free life.

Although the causes of a relapse will often vary dramatically from person to person, some individuals in recovery may be more prone to experience a drug or alcohol relapse when they feel social pressure. An example of this type of a situation is when a former alcoholic is attending a party where many people are drinking; this type of a setting can be very dangerous, and can be especially risky if the individuals at the party are encouraging them to have a drink, because they are not aware that the individual is a former alcoholic. Other individuals that are recovering from an addiction may be fine in social situations, but have an extremely difficult time when they are alone.

The causes of a drug or alcohol relapse differ for each person, as each individual is unique; listed below are some of the most common causes of a relapse:

Experiencing intense drug or alcohol cravings-Cravings can be both physical or psychological in nature, and are commonly reported to be one of the biggest causes of a relapse; unfortunately, the physical compulsion and the mental obsession that is often associated with drug and alcohol addiction can remain with a person for a very long time after they have successfully completed a drug treatment program.

Hanging around with negative people-Not only will negative people suck all of the positive energy out of the room, but being around them for long periods of time could be hazardous to a recovering addict's health. Hanging out with these types of individuals can only bring a person down, and low moods have been reported to be one of the causes of a relapse. If these individuals are members of your family or if you work with them and you must spend a certain amount of time around them, be sure to keep it to a minimum, keeping in mind that maintaining your sobriety must be your main priority.

Not getting enough rest- One of the most common causes of a relapse occurs when an individual in recovery allows themselves to get to the point of exhaustion; a great number of relapses have occurred because a person in recovery has allowed themselves to get to a point of becoming overly tired. It is at this point that the former drug rehab patient may have lower defenses, and the next thing they know, could be popping a pill or drinking a shot, in hopes of getting a much needed lift.

Not eating regularly or properly-When a person is a recovering addict, eating a healthy diet will go a long way in effectively preventing a drug relapse. Much research has indicated that poor nutrition is one of the leading causes of a relapse for individuals who are former addicts. The main reason for this is that eating a balanced and healthy diet will make an individual that is recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction feel better; when a recovering addict or alcoholic feels good, they will be less likely to reach for various different types of mood altering chemicals. Dietary habits have been reported to be able to trigger many chemical and physiological changes within the brain that can alter our behavior and our emotions; thus, what we eat could have a significant impact on our mood. Additional studies have reported that the food that we eat can not only affect our moods, but certain foods have also been shown to effectively curb drug or alcohol cravings.

Not getting enough exercise-Cutting edge scientific research suggests that exercise is extremely beneficial in drug and alcohol relapse prevention. Because exercise has consistently proven to be an excellent outlet for stress, these groundbreaking research results should not come as a surprise. It has long been reported that one of the major causes of relapse is related to stress. This current research has concluded that exercise exerts anti-stress effects because it increases a chemical in the brain that is called galanin. Just as experiencing stress has been reported to activate norepinephrine in the brain, which activates dopamine, which is a chemical that is reported to induce drug and alcohol cravings; conversely, galanin has been shown to decrease norepinephrine, thus, someone who exercises should experience fewer drug cravings.

Many former drug rehab patients who are in recovery have reported that they often turned to alcohol and drugs in order to alter their mood. Regular exercise has consistently proven to be able to dramatically improve a person's mood; additionally, being physically active on a regular basis can provide a person in recovery with a healthy hobby that does not involve drinking or using drugs. While drinking alcohol and using drugs may provide a temporary mood boost, addiction has commonly been reported to lead to depression in the user; on the other hand, maintaining a regular exercise schedule, for as little as 30 minutes a day at least three times a week has proven to cause a significant improvement in individuals that had reported symptoms of depression. This is a significant finding as we consider that depression has been reported to one of the main causes of drug relapse.

Loneliness-Being lonely is one of the most frequent causes of a relapse; this is because when a person is a former addict, they may have committed many acts that they are ashamed of. Facing others in the family and at work is difficult, when a person who is recovering from an addiction can often not even remember much of what they did when they were under the influence; thus, it is not like they can just apologize and move on. For this reason, the person may feel uncomfortable around others and begin to make excuses so they will not have to attend social gatherings; it is at this point, that they may become lonely and sad, putting them at a higher risk for a drug or alcohol relapse.

Hanging out with former drug using friends-Loneliness and the need to "fit in again" may prompt a former addict or alcoholic to pick up the phone the next time someone from their drug using days calls them; unfortunately, this scenario represents one of the most common causes of a relapse. Although the temptation to feel like they belong may be strong, the price that a former addict pays will be extremely high, as it could cost them their life; much research in relation to fatal drug overdoses have reported that the largest majority of fatal drug overdoses occur after an addict who has been abstinent for a period of time and then relapses; it is at this point, that the drug user may make the often fatal mistake of taking the same amount of drugs that they did prior to going through treatment.

Maintaining high levels of stress-Although it cannot be completed avoided, stress has been reported to be one of the primary causes of relapse. Because the body automatically releases stress hormones, a person that is recovering from an addiction will have to learn various different ways to manage the stress that is a natural part of everyday life. Avoiding foods like stimulants and sugar and getting more sleep, are both easy changes that can be incorporated into your substance abuse recovery plan in order to alleviate stress. Identifying which activities and hobbies help to recharge you and making time in your schedule for these type of things will energize you; doing things that you truly enjoy can go a long way in lowering stress levels, which will ultimately help to prevent a drug or alcohol relapse..

Making small changes like prioritizing the things that need to be done could easily cut your to-do list in half and accepting change as a normal and sometimes necessary part of life can help you to stay flexible. Exercise has also been reported to be able to help to relieve stress in several different ways; first, cardiovascular workouts are reported to be effective in stimulating the brain chemicals that foster the growth of nerve cells; second, moderate physical activity has been reported to help to increase serotonin levels in the brain; and last but not least, moderate exercise raises the heart rate, which releases endorphins and hormones that are known as ANP. The combination of these feel good chemical (endorphins) and the hormone ANP has been reported to reduce pain, induce euphoria, and most importantly, in terms of relapse prevention, aids in controlling the brain's response to stress.

Being overly confident about staying sober- Many times, an addict will get cocky and begin telling themselves and others that there is no chance that they could ever fall back into the grip of addiction; unfortunately, when a person who is recovering from an addiction believes this, their need to maintain the healthy habits that they learned at the drug rehab center will become significantly less important.

Depression-When a former addict exhibits signs of depression that begin to appear and persist, it is important for their love ones to recognize that this mental condition represents one of the most common causes of relapse. When an individual that is recovering from an addiction becomes depressed and develops a negative attitude toward life, they are at an extremely high risk for reverting to back to their former drug using behaviors.

Becoming complacent about their drug or alcohol recovery plan-Missing a meeting or two or not being available to speak with the counselor from the drug rehab program that you attended for treatment may not appear to be a big deal, but this type of complacency is often one of the most common causes of a relapse. When a former addict who has formerly been excited about leaving addiction behind, suddenly takes a step back and becomes less diligent about maintaining their sobriety, this is a major red flag that a drug or alcohol relapse could be just around the corner.

Taking other people's inventory- When a former addict begins to check out what other's are doing in recovery, instead of taking their own inventory, this is one of the most common causes of relapse; this is because when a person in recovery is overly concerned with other people's lives, there is little time left to focus on their own abstinence.