Drug Relapse Signs and Triggers

What is drug relapse? Drug relapse can happen to anyone after abstaining from drug or alcohol usage. Read on to learn more about its effects.

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What is Drug Relapse?

Drug relapses are now generally considered part of the recovery process, as many individuals undergoing detox or who have not used drugs for a while are still at risk. A relapse is what happens when someone who has not used drugs or alcohol for any amount of time goes back to using, even if just once, and often continues their previous amount of use. While somewhat common, drug relapses are still dangerous for many people with substance abuse issues.1

Why Do People Relapse?

People may relapse for any number of reasons, but most commonly, it’s due to some stressor they’re experiencing. They will then turn to drug use to cope with whatever situation has arisen. People are more prone to relapsing if they don’t have a strong social circle of support, and if they’re still in an environment that promotes drug or alcohol usage.

Stages of Relapse

Relapse can look different for many people, but it often entails going through stages until the individual gets to the actual physical relapse. These stages include:2

Emotional Relapse

This stage of the relapse process generally means that the individual isn’t even thinking about actively relapsing yet. However, they may be undergoing something that will put them at risk of relapsing in the future, such as something stressful happening at work or a family issue. Emotional signs of relapse include isolation, poor sleep habits, and not participating in expected events.

Mental Relapse

The next stage of relapse is mental relapse. This is when an individual may start actively thinking about using substances again. Some signs of this stage include cravings, lying, and thinking about how to obtain the substance again. People use mental bargaining to justify their cravings to tell themselves that drug usage isn’t bad.

Physical Relapse

This stage is the actual act of retaking the substance. Many people will relapse when they’re alone or think that their usage will go undetected, but often, the warning signs become apparent again quickly.

How Common Are Relapses?

Relapses are more common than you might think and have become a somewhat normalized part of the recovery process for many clinic centers. It’s estimated that almost 90% of people who undergo detox and recovery may relapse during their journey.

However, this does not mean that patients have failed in their recovery. Since addiction is a disease, it’s very difficult to fully “cure,” especially since many people also have co-occurring disorders that can exacerbate symptoms. The most important thing to remember if you relapse is that it’s never too late to ask for help and get back on the road to recovery.3

What Addiction Relapse Triggers Should You Look Out For?

While certain causes of relapse may look different for everyone, there are some common causes to look out for if you or a loved one think you may be in danger of relapsing. These can include:

  • Stress
  • Easy access to substances
  • Revisiting negative connections
  • Social isolation
  • Illness or co-occurring conditions
  • Major life transitions
  • Boredom


Stress, which can result from work issues to family troubles, is one of many people’s biggest causes of relapse. Many substance abuse disorders often stem from people using substances to cope with stressors in their life. If these resurface in any way, they may easily turn back to using substances again to deal with this stress.4

HALT, which is an acronym for hungry, angry, loneliness, and tiredness, is used by many recovery centers during their detox process to teach people that even little stressors like this, if not properly maintained and cared for, can result in someone relapsing as well.

Recognizing Relapse Warning Signs and Risk Factors

Relapse warning signs and red flags for relapse will generally occur with varying levels of severity depending on the person, but some important relapse warning signs to take note of include:

  • Overconfidence
  • Significant changes in attitude or behavior
  • Self-imposed isolation
  • Reviving old (negative) connections
  • Neglecting personal hygiene or self-care
  • Dishonesty

Dealing with relapse often means recognizing these signs before the person has a chance to physically relapse. The signs stated above often occur during the emotional and mental stages of relapse. The relapse cycle may repeat for some people but learning what these signs could lead to is important for both you and your loved ones.

Risk Factors

Alongside common warning signs, there are also prominent risk factors note during the relapse process. These include:

  • Exposure to triggers
  • Stress
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of social support
  • Pain due to injuries, accidents, or medical issues
  • Low self-efficacy
  • Overly positive moods

How to Avoid Relapse

While there is no single way to completely avoid relapsing, there are certain things you can do to help mitigate the risk of relapse, including:

  • Revisit Relapse Prevention Plan: During the detox and recovery process, many facilities will create a relapse prevention plan with you. This is a detailed way in which you personally can work to avoid a potential relapse in the future.
  • Increase Meeting Attendance: If you find yourself struggling with potentially relapsing, increasing your meeting attendance at support groups can help show you you’re not alone in your struggle.
  • Commit to Healthy Routines: Creating a healthy routine and sticking to it can help you stay sober and work through any negative thoughts or stressors.
  • Build a Sober Network: Being around like-minded people is a great way to increase your likelihood of staying sober and committing to healthy routines.
  • Increase Self-Care Practices: Being kind to yourself throughout the recovery process and helping cultivate your self-care practices can make a difference during the detox stages.

Help a Loved One Cope With Addiction Relapse at Soledad House

Soledad House is a woman-only clinic that is invested in helping our patients create healthy and lifelong changes in their lives. If you or a loved one think you may be in danger of relapsing, please contact us as soon as possible.

We will be with you every step during recovery and want to make sure you stay sober. We have relapse prevention education and aftercare addiction programs to help with your recovery and detox journey.