Renaissance Ranch

How Common is it to Relapse After Rehab?

Nov 28, 2023

You may have a loved one who recently completed rehab and had a beautiful transformation. You are proud of their hard work and dedication but have some fear about a relapse. Knowledge is power, so keep reading to learn just how common it is to relapse post-rehab and some common triggers.
Joel Frank, Psy.D.

Joel Frank, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist of Duality Psychological Services.

Common Due to Stress and Comfort in Sobriety

Relapsing after participating in a rehab program is not uncommon. Substance use is a powerful coping strategy that immediately relieves distressing situations. The trouble is that when the substance wears off, the distress returns because the person has not addressed the underlying angst.

Furthermore, substance use is a primary coping strategy for many individuals. The person has effectively trained themselves psychologically and physiologically to seek substances for relief. For this reason, even after time in rehab, the person may still harbor yearnings for substance use during distressing situations because substance use is a proven method for countering unrest.

From my clinical experience, I’ve noticed two distinct factors for why someone may relapse: Stress and comfort in sobriety. In the case of stress, the person defaults to their known coping strategies, which have provided relief in the past.

For individuals with a history of substance abuse or dependence, on a psychological level, substance use has been a proven effective strategy. On a physiological level, the person has often conditioned themselves to crave the substance to ease the physiological symptoms when stressed, so they may relapse to substance use.

The second major factor that can lead to relapse, comfort in sobriety, typically comes months after substance abstinence. For some people, after a few months of sobriety, they may feel a sense of mastery over their substance use. The perceived mastery over their substance use often presents a false sense of security for the individual, and they begin to believe they can moderate their substance use.

The perceived mastery can lead to the person using a small amount of a substance to “test the waters” of their ability to manage the use. This testing can be a slippery slope for the person. Even if they can control themselves during the first testing session, many people escalate their use over time, ultimately resulting in troublesome use again.

It Occurs When They are Feeling Bad, Feeling Pressure, or Revisiting the Past

Yes, it’s quite common for people to start using drugs or doing harmful things again after they’ve been to rehab. This is called a relapse. It’s a bit like taking a step backward in their recovery journey.

Relapses can happen at different times, but they’re more likely to occur shortly after leaving rehab. This is when they’re still getting used to life outside of rehab and might face situations that make them want to go back to their old habits. Stress, feeling bad, pressure from friends, or being in places where they used to do those things can make relapses more likely.

Relapses can also happen later, even if they’ve been doing well for a while. This might be because they start feeling too confident and forget how strong their bad habits can be.

It’s important to know that a relapse isn’t the end of the world. It’s a sign that they need some extra help and support. They can talk to people who understand and get back on track with their recovery. Having a plan to stay away from these bad habits and getting help when they need it can really help them stay on the right path.

Michelle Giordano

Michelle Giordano

Community Counselor and Outreach Specialist for Live Another Day.
Elijah Meason

Elijah Meason


When an Individual Lacks Coping Skills

There are a million and one reasons why a relapse might occur after completing rehab. Most often, it’s not because of a lack of trying, it is simply a lack of training.

Change comes through action not through insight. I think that many people fall into the trap of thinking that because they know about their addiction, they will be ok.

Because of this, many people still maintain unhealthy relationships which then lead them to relapse. Again, this is just one of the many reasons it might occur.

Relapse is likely to occur when an individual experiences some kind of difficulty in life and lacks the coping skills and support needed to persevere. Moreover, if they are still maintaining unhealthy relationships, it makes it that much easier to fall back into old behaviors.

Triggered by Stress, Negative Emotions, Boredom, and Being Around Drugs or Alcohol

The NIDA states that the rate of relapse among recovering alcoholics is between 50-90% in the first four years after rehabilitation, with rates for drug addicts being 40-60%. It’s evident that addiction recovery is a difficult journey and requires a great amount of dedication and determination. Relapse is a normal part of the addiction recovery process and can occur at any time. Many people relapse shortly after becoming sober, but some may relapse months or years later.

Understanding that events, situations, feelings, or triggers can lead to relapse is important. It’s also essential for individuals in recovery to recognize their own personal triggers and to have a plan in place for managing them. Common triggers include stress, negative emotions, boredom, and being in the presence of drugs or alcohol.

Building up skills such as stress management, emotional regulation, and communication can help prevent relapse. Having access to addiction counseling or therapy can be beneficial for managing cravings and maintaining long-term sobriety.

Michelle English, LCSW

Michelle English, LCSW

Co-Founder and Executive Clinical Manager at Healthy Life Recovery.

This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors' statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.