Addiction is rarely a long and straight road and an addict is hardly ever someone who refuses to give-up and has never tried. In fact, the vast majority of long-term addicts have tried to give-up many times, but have either shied at the first sight of withdrawal, or have relapsed many times.
A relapse is common, but it can also be deadly and it’s one of the leading causes of overdose—once the addict stops using then their tolerance drops, and if they relapse and use the same dose they always used, it will suddenly be too much for them.
A relapse can be triggered by many things, including:
Few people start taking drugs as a way to alleviate stress, but someone who is incredibly stressed all of the time might find relief in drugs and once they experience that relief they’ll want to use it again and again. This is how many addictions form, and it’s also one of the leading contributors to relapse.
If stress returns or never goes away, the addict may return to the thing that helped them through. They may have even convinced themselves they need that substance to get through, that they simply can’t function without it, in which case they may think that their career, their finances, and even their happiness depends on it.
It’s not practical to try and avoid stress altogether. The trick is to find some other way of handling it, preferably one that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol (it’s common for addicts to substitute one substance for another as a way of dealing with their repeated relapses). Most addicts find that exercise is the perfect solution, as it’s healthy and it releases stress-fighting endorphins, but meditation and even taking up a new hobby can also help.
2. Emotional Distress
An addict is more exposed psychologically than the average person. Not only have they been hiding their real emotions behind a veil of addiction for such a long time, but they may also be suffering from acute or protracted withdrawal, symptoms of which can include a heightened emotional response.
If they feel incredibly angry or sad, they may turn to the substance they know can block those feelings out. And this is a very hard habit to break, because when you’re in the depths of despair it’s not easy to convince yourself that relapsing would be a bad idea. Analyzing the consequences of such a relapse is often the best way (knowing that one reckless moment could undo months of hard work and suffering and make the next few weeks even harder) but having friends and family on hand to provide support can also help.
3. Major Life Changes
The end of a long-term relationship or job is a major relapse trigger, as is moving to a new home or tackling a new job. The addict might feel exposed, alone and desperate—feelings that combine to trigger a damaging relapse.
The easiest way to avoid this issue is to try and avoid going through such a major life change—moving to a new job, quitting a job, starting a business—during acute withdrawal. Of course, you can’t always plan for all major life changes, but there is support available for those things you can’t plan for.
It is often claimed that cigarettes are more addictive than heroin, and anyone who has smoked but has not taken drugs like heroin may back these claims up. However, it’s simply not true. Heroin, and opiates in general, trigger major physiological and emotional changes in the body during addiction and withdrawal, while substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines can even lead to coma and death.
However, they have one thing right when it comes to cigarettes: it’s very easy to relapse. The main issue here is not necessarily the severity of the withdrawals or the cravings, as those exist with all substances, but rather it’s about availability. More people smoke than take drugs, cigarette adverts are everywhere (albeit less so now) and the smoker knows they are only a visit to the local store away from getting a fix.
This availability, in addition to the temptation formed by being around other users, is a huge trigger for relapse. It’s why drug addicts are advised to breakup with friends and partners who choose to continue using, and it’s also one of the reasons why alcoholics have such a hard time.
The only thing you can do is try to limit coming into contact with your drug of choice, and look for ways to kill those cravings and temptations when they arise.
How to Prevent a Relapse
Understanding the triggers is the first step to stopping them and preventing a relapse from occurring. It is also important to get the right help and guidance from loved ones, only by knowing what you’re going through and what your triggers are can they hope to help you avoid them.
If someone you love recently quit drugs or alcohol then it may benefit you to learn more about relapse and what they might be going through. Checkout this guide on what is relapse to learn more.