Why Do Addicts Relapse When Things Are Good?

why do addicts relapse when things are good

According to a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than two-thirds of addicts relapse after initiating treatment for a substance use disorder. This is true despite the widespread availability of FDA-approved treatments for nicotine, alcohol, and opioid addictions. 

Many times, addicts relapse because they fall back into their former patterns and behaviors once they leave the safe space of rehab. This might mean spending time around people and places that encourage their addictions. Other times, it happens when things seem to be on the upswing, which is especially surprising. 

Why do addicts relapse when things are good? While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer that applies to everyone, there are some common reasons to know. Today, we’re sharing a few of them to shed light on this complex occurrence. 


First, a drug abuse relapse may occur because the individual is simply bored. Before they entered rehab or sought treatment for their substance abuse disorder, their lives might have revolved around using their drug of choice. 

If they weren’t actively using the drug, they were looking for ways to get it or people who could source it for them. For many addicts, these activities consume their lives until there’s little room for anything else. This is why addictions damage so many relationships, from marriages to friendships. 

Then, once they’re in a formal treatment program, their days are also structured. For instance, they may have entered a 30-, 60-, or 90-day residential inpatient rehab program, where they lived on-site and spent the day attending individual and group therapy sessions. Everything from their meal times to their downtime was planned for them. 

When they get out of such programs, addicts can have a difficult time re-entering the world they left. Even if they try hard to stick to their program and avoid their old way of life, they might find that they don’t know how to fill their time. This is especially true if they’re unemployed or looking for a job. 

Not only are they lacking a daily activity, but the addict may also miss the excitement and thrill they used to get from taking drugs or drinking alcohol. While they might understand now how harmful their addiction was, they still miss the feeling of being high and the sense of adventure they had while engaging in illegal activities. 

Painful Withdrawal 

The effects of substance withdrawal can be extremely painful. They can be physical, mental, and emotional in nature, though their severity will fluctuate depending on the type of substance used and the depth of the addiction. 

For many addicts, these symptoms are simply too hard to bear. The physical side effects alone can range from nausea and night sweats to vomiting, muscle pain, and shakiness. It can be difficult to convey in the moment, but what some addicts cannot see is that reintroducing those addictive substances back into their bodies is significantly worse. 

Not only does it throw their recovery process off-track, but it can also confuse and damage their minds and bodies. This is why we recommend that addicts begin their withdrawal in a designated rehab center.

The trained medical professionals in these locations are familiar with the withdrawal process. They know how to help patients through it as safely and comfortably as possible. 


According to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA), seven in 10 U.S. adults (72%) have experienced serious health impacts due to stress. Of those, 32% have noticed changes in their sleeping habits and 30% say they feel worried constantly. 

To relax and find relief, one in 10 respondents (15%) say they’ve turned to alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs. If someone has engaged in these behaviors to cope in the past, they might be tempted to do so again after recovery.

The reality is that life is bound to turn stressful at some point. This is why it’s so important for addicts to learn helpful and healthy ways to cope with those feelings, rather than turn to an illegal substance. Some common options include:

  • Attending support meetings
  • Talking to a friend, sponsor, or therapist
  • Taking a walk
  • Engaging in a hobby

If possible, individuals in recovery should also avoid making any major life decisions while they’re still early in the recovery process. The stress of re-acclimating to normal life can be triggering enough, and it’s often difficult for them to think rationally when they’re in the throes of those overwhelming emotions. 

False Sense of Confidence

A relapse is a relapse, even if the substance abuse only happens one time. Sometimes, addicts believe that they can just use drugs once or enjoy one drink, and then return to a life of sobriety. 

However, we understand that it doesn’t always work like this. Especially in the early stages of recovery, this level of vulnerability is especially dangerous and can become a gateway toward continued action. 

Addiction treatment focuses on rebuilding one’s thought patterns and behaviors and understanding the triggers that encourage substance abuse in the first place. Once they complete this program, addicts might think that they have all the tools they need to get back on the straight and narrow after dipping one pinkie toe back into their old life. They might even think that they don’t need to attend meetings or engage with their support community. 

While the goal of treatment is to equip addicts with the resources they need to conquer sobriety, it’s a daily commitment that many must re-make every minute of every hour. 

Self-Sabotage Perspective

For some people, using drugs is the outcome of low self-esteem. They might have suffered a traumatic event in the past, or have a reason to feel unworthy and unloved. This may have been what caused them to turn to dangerous drugs or alcohol originally. 

When they’re in recovery, they might find that their self-esteem isn’t yet where it needs to be. They might feel outcasted as they remove themselves from the friend group they used to have. Or, they might feel shame and guilt over the way their addiction influenced their behavior before they sought help.

While most treatment programs aim to address these types of underlying issues, they can take a while to fully resolve. If someone doesn’t truly believe that they deserve the happy and healthy life that sobriety brings, they may reach for their familiar substances again. 

Re-Connecting With Enablers

When we think about an addict re-connecting with someone who enables their addiction, we might think of a group of friends or even colleagues at work. However, it might be surprising to learn that the most powerful drug temptations can start at home. 

Even if they don’t support the behavior, family members, including spouses, parents, and siblings, may inadvertently make it easier for the addict to engage in it. For instance, they might loan money that’s later used to purchase drugs. Or, they might pretend not to notice when the addict begins to show signs of their former habits. 

If an addict’s home life or social circle encourages their drug use, then they are much more likely to fall back into that cycle once they complete their designated treatment program. To protect their health, sobriety, and peace of mind, it’s essential for them to break free of those ties.

Connecting with people who support them on their sober journey will be critical to their long-term recovery. This is why recovery meetings, support groups, and sponsors are such an integral part of the process. In addition to removing themselves from the people who trigger their substance abuse, these individuals must also make strides to eliminate the environments that make them want to drink, smoke, or use drugs, such as local bars or liquor shops. 

Neglecting Self-Care

These days, self-care might sound like more of a buzzword than a critical practice, but it’s an essential part of staying sober. By taking care of their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves, addicts can recognize and nurture their inner worth. 

These routines will look different for each person, but they all serve the same purpose: to bring a sense of inner calm and confidence to the individual performing them. Common examples of self-care activities include taking warm baths, watching relaxing movies, listening to music, or taking a walk in nature. 

It’s also helpful for addicts to nourish their bodies with healthy foods. A pro-recovery diet can help them heal their bodies from the inside out, filling them with the nutrients they need to feel their best. 

Why Do Addicts Relapse When Things Are Good? More Insights

Loving someone who has struggled with addiction can be a difficult, yet, rewarding, journey. If your loved one has shown signs of relapsing even after a period of recovery, we understand how hard that can be to witness. 

Why do addicts relapse when things are good? As you can see, there are many reasons why this might happen. While this can be a challenging roadblock to navigate, the good news is that there is hope on the other side. 

At Purpose Healing Center, we help patients treat drug, alcohol, opioid, and heroin addictions. Through our various treatment programs, we can meet them where they are and help guide them toward a brighter future. To learn more about the service we provide, contact us today.