– Dr. Jay Piland, ABAM


On your journey to recovery and sobriety, relapse can feel like a major failure, and the resulting stress and anxiety can cause feelings of hopelessness. But it’s important to know that relapse happens in many paths to recovery and, while not necessarily inevitable or unavoidable, is a common occurrence. With the right aftercare and relapse prevention plan, you can avoid relapse – but it’s important to reach out to your support network and continue your recovery journey. Whether you’ve just experienced a relapse or are working through guilt and other emotional responses to a previous relapse, you might be wondering – why did this happen?

Why Do People Relapse?

Relapse happens in a number of chronic diseases, and addiction is no exception. In fact, 40 to 60 percent of people recovering from addiction experience at least one relapse during their recovery. That relapse occurrence aligns with relapse rates for hypertension (50 to 70 percent) and asthma (50 to 70 percent). These chronic diseases all involve behaviors and adherence to a treatment plan that drastically impact likelihood of relapse. While it’s important to take responsibility for your health, beating yourself up over a relapse can actually cause lasting harm to your mental health and recovery.

There are a number of internal and external triggers that could lead you to experience a relapse. Most, if not all, triggers of relapse are responses to conditions over which you might have no control at all. Usually, we can only really control our responses to those triggers using coping techniques and support systems developed during treatment. Some of the major triggers for relapse include:

Stress and Anxiety

The top trigger for relapse is stress and associated anxiety. In fact, this trigger usually plays a big role in how an addiction reveals itself in the first place – as a maladaptive way of coping with stress and anxiety. You can’t totally eliminate stress in your life, so it’s important to prepare for this trigger and discuss elevated or extended periods of stress with your support network and mental health partners. 

A good aftercare and relapse prevention plan after treatment should include regular practices to manage day-to-day stress and particularly stressful situations. Some coping mechanisms and practices include:

  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Engaging in relaxation training
  • Managing time and priorities to avoid stress and panic
  • Incorporating moderate exercise routines
  • Maintaining healthy eating practices

People, Places, and Practices Associated with the Addiction

Another major trigger for relapse can occur when you’re reintroduced or spending time with people or in places where your addictive behavior occurred. You might also experience relapse after engaging in practices associated with your addiction – like celebrations or even otherwise healthy activities such as camping. Even some family members can be a trigger if they make you feel more child-like or vulnerable. 

This is not to say that you have to avoid family members or otherwise healthy activities. But when you’re reminded of addictive behavior or your addiction, you need to plan effective ways of handling your feelings. Open and honest communication with those around you, with prepared responses to certain invitations, can help not only avoid triggering experiences but also recruit accountability partners in your support network. You can also brainstorm with your support network how to continue building healthy relationships while avoiding potential relapse triggers.

Challenging or Negative Emotions

Stress and anxiety are not the only emotional experiences that can trigger relapses. Negative emotions and experiences often play a part in revealing an addiction or addictive behavior in the first place. While you can’t always avoid challenging or negative emotions, you should have a plan to deal with them – especially if they are recurring. Sometimes, these emotions are opportunities for growth; other times, recurring negative emotions might be an indicator that you should seek help coping with them from a mental health professional. 

Avoiding relapse caused by challenging or negative emotions means honesty with yourself and your support network. Develop a plan to deal with these emotions – like through exercise or time spent with someone you trust. Being mindful of your emotions and times or experiences that might negatively impact your emotional state is crucial to avoiding relapse.

Professional, Compassionate Treatment from Palmetto

At Palmetto Recovery Center, we care deeply about healthy recovery from addiction. Our mental health and addiction counseling professionals work tirelessly to develop coping mechanisms and relapse prevention plans for each of our clients. If you need help to plan for your continued recovery and relapse avoidance, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Recovery from addiction is not a solo sport – we’d be honored to join your team!