Addiction Relapse: Know the Signs

Additional relapse is a common problem after someone has completed drug rehab. Read on to learn more about relapse signs.

Table of Contents

What is Addiction Relapse?

Addiction relapse is when someone starts using drugs or alcohol again after a period of being sober. During and after addiction treatment has been completed, there is a risk of a relapse occurring. This is why it’s essential to implement relapse support and prevention as part of a treatment program.

Relapse prevention is also important after someone leaves a treatment facility in order to recognize common relapse warning signs before it potentially occurs. recovery programs are available, and you don’t have to go through it alone. 

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Why Do People Relapse?

There are several reasons why someone may relapse. Things like stress, mental health issues, peer pressure, being in an environment where drug or alcohol use is common, or a lack of social support can all be risk factors for addiction relapse.1

Relapse can also happen when someone is going through an addiction recovery program. Relapse in recovery is usually due to withdrawal symptoms or having strong cravings to use drugs, which is why it’s a good idea to go to a treatment center during detox and the initial stages of recovery. That way, precautionary measures are put in place, and you have a solid support system around you.

What is Addiction? Understanding Addiction and Why Relapse Happens

Stages of Relapse

To look for drug relapse warning signs, it’s important to understand what the stages of relapse are. The following sections will provide details about the three stages of relapse to help you better recognize when someone is dealing with relapse or exhibiting common red flags for relapse. If you or someone you know is dealing with any of the stages of relapse, there are relapse recovery options available.

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse generally takes place during the initial stages of relapse. This is when someone’s emotions and behaviors begin setting them up for a potential relapse in the future. Common red flags for relapse in the emotional stage are:2
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Defensiveness
  • Intolerance
  • Isolation
  • Mood swings
  • Not going to support group or recovery meetings
  • Not seeking help or avoiding help
  • Poor eating habits
  • Poor sleeping habits
If someone is exhibiting these emotional or behavioral signs, it’s crucial that they get help right away before a full relapse may occur.

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is when someone begins thinking about using drugs or alcohol. During this stage, they will likely feel torn about whether or not they should start using drugs again. Common signs of mental relapse include:
  • Fantasizing about drugs or the feeling of being high
  • Glamorizing or justifying past drug use
  • Hanging out with people you once did drugs with
  • Lying
  • Planning a relapse or thinking about relapsing
  • Thinking about people, places, or things associated with drug use

If you are experiencing any of these mental signs of relapse, it’s important that you tell someone right away, go to a support group meeting, or talk to a treatment professional. There are many resources available that can prevent a substance abuse relapse from occurring.

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is when a full drug relapse occurs. Oftentimes, addiction relapse risks can cause a physical relapse, such as high-stress situations, seeing people or places connected to addiction, or seeing the substance you are addicted to. If someone has a physical relapse, it is extremely important that they get relapse treatment as soon as possible.3

How Common Are Relapses?

Unfortunately, drug relapse statistics show that relapse is common amongst those who complete or are undergoing an addiction treatment program. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 40-60% of patients relapse during or after treatment.
However, proper treatment protocols can be implemented to help prevent relapse, which can significantly decrease these numbers. If someone has relapsed, implementing proper treatment and prevention policies will also prevent a relapse cycle, which is where someone relapses repeatedly.4

Is Relapse a Sign of Failure?

A relapse is not a sign of failure. If it happens, the relapse part of recovery isn’t easy and can be disheartening, but it doesn’t mean you should give up hope. Relapse recovery programs are available that can help you get back on track. With the right program and support system, you can recover and get sober again.
For family members, it is also important that you do not get mad or frustrated with your loved one if they have relapsed. Your loved one will need your support at this time. Getting angry may only worsen the situation or cause your loved one to push away rather than asking you for help or seeking help in other ways.

What Addiction Relapse Causes Should You Look Out For?

When managing your sobriety, it’s important to understand and look out for common relapse risks. Knowing what might cause drug cravings is essential to stay on track and knowing what to do in those instances.


Stress is a common factor in addiction relapse and one of the common causes that can cause a relapse to occur. Studies have shown that how stress affects the brain can cause negative activity in brain reward centers associated with drug use. This can make it more likely that someone turns to drug use to cope with stressful situations.5

Easy Access

Having easy access to drugs or alcohol is also a common cause or risk for relapse. Being around people who frequently use drugs or places where you could buy drugs or alcohol can make it more tempting to start thinking about relapsing.

Revisiting Negative Connections

Peer pressure is a common source of drug relapse since social factors are a major contributor to drug and alcohol abuse. If someone starts spending time with negative people or connections associated with past drug use, there is a high chance a relapse could occur, especially if those negative connections still use drugs themselves.

Social Isolation

Social isolation can also be a significant risk factor for relapse. If someone in recovery starts isolating themselves or pushing loved ones away, it can be a sign that they are experiencing mental distress that could set them up for a relapse. Those who feel isolated may also have more time to think to themselves and let temptations and cravings for drug use build up.


A serious illness can significantly affect someone’s well-being and mental state. If someone is recovering from drug addiction, these effects can be worsened and potentially cause a relapse. Many people may relapse to cope with the physical or mental impact the illness has had on them.

Major Life Transition

Major life transitions such as the loss of a loved one, moving, new jobs, or breakups can significantly impact someone’s mental well-being. This can cause a relapse since someone may turn to drugs or alcohol during a major transition to cope with how they are feeling.


Boredom can also be a common cause of addiction relapse. If you are going through recovery or trying to maintain sobriety, a good way to manage your addiction is to partake in positive and healthy activities. This helps prevent boredom and leads to a healthier lifestyle that makes you less likely to turn to drug use.

Recognizing Relapse Warning Signs

A big part of managing addiction and relapse is knowing the warning signs and symptoms of relapse. Knowing common relapse signs and symptoms will help with relapse prevention or recognizing if a loved one has returned to drug use so you can get them the help needed to recover.


Overconfidence can be a factor in relapse after rehab. After rehabilitation treatment has been completed, a lot of work still needs to be done for someone to maintain sobriety. If aftercare treatment is not taken seriously, it can lead to backslides and lapses in sobriety. Someone may also feel confident that they can start drinking or using drugs again and manage their use without it getting out of control. However, this can lead to restarting negative habits that existed before treatment.

Significant Change in Attitude

It isn’t uncommon for someone to feel down or out of place after they have completed addiction treatment. Life can feel a lot different when you go through a significant change, such as getting sober. If someone shows significant changes in their attitude, perceptions, or outlook on life post-treatment, it could be a warning sign for a risk of relapse.

Significant Change in Behavior

When someone finishes addiction treatment, they need to maintain positive behavioral patterns and structure within their life. If someone experiences significant changes in their behavior, such as poor sleep patterns, neglecting personal responsibilities, or secretive behavior, it could be a warning sign that there is a risk of relapse.

Self-Imposed Isolation

Self-imposed isolation is also a common warning sign of relapse. When someone begins to isolate, it can signify mental health issues and other negative feelings. While isolation may feel like a way to cope, it will only worsen the problem and can lead to relapse. 

Substance induced disorders

Reviving Old or Negative Connections

Reviving old connections after rehab is a common warning sign that someone could relapse, especially if those connections are associated with past drug use. Relapse after rehab statistics from the National Library of Medicine state that 60% of young people under the age of 18 report direct social pressure from peers as a primary reason why they started using drugs or drinking again after receiving treatment.6

Adults 18 and over can struggle with direct social pressure after treatment, making it essential that enough support is provided post-treatment through aftercare from treatment centers, support groups, and other positive outlets. 

Neglecting Personal Hygiene

If someone begins to exhibit poor hygiene, it could be a sign of a negative mental state or them beginning to neglect healthy habits. This can be a warning sign of relapse. If you notice someone’s health or hygiene slipping post-treatment, checking in with them or encouraging them to go to support group meetings or talk to a therapist is a good idea. 


Dishonesty is also a common warning sign of relapse. If you catch someone lying about where they were, who they were with, or displaying sneaky behavior, it could signify that they have started using drugs or are thinking about using drugs again. In these instances, it’s important to provide support and check in with them about what’s going on. 

Relapse Warning Signs: a Brief Overview

Common Risk Factors for Relapse

There are many common risk factors for relapse. Understanding the risk factors can help spot them in a loved one or help you better manage these situations on your own. Common risk factors for relapse are:

  • Exposure to past risks or causes
  • Stress
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of social support
  • Pain due to injuries, accidents, or medical issues
  • Low self-efficacy
  • Negative moods
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these risk factors, there are resources available that can help. There are many things you can put in place to help prevent relapse from occurring.

How to Avoid Relapse

Many steps can be taken to avoid relapse. A relapse prevention plan will help you follow the steps needed to take action when you are experiencing risks or temptations to use drugs. 

Revisit Your Relapse Prevention Plan

If you feel tempted to use drugs again or are in a situation where drug use is being encouraged, you must revisit your relapse prevention plan immediately. Your relapse prevention plan will help you recognize signs that you might relapse, know who to contact in those situations, and will outline the next steps you should take. This will help you cope with negative situations to avoid any harmful actions.

Increase Meeting Attendance

If you begin to feel negative feelings or drug cravings coming on, increasing attendance to support group meetings is a good idea. 12-step programs are a common type of support group recommended after addiction treatment as a form of aftercare.

Meetings provide a supportive environment for times when you are feeling low or don’t know where else to turn to. They can also provide a consistent structure in your daily life, so you feel like you have a consistent network of people around you who have your best interest at heart.

Commit to Healthy Routines

Having a healthy routine is essential after you have completed addiction treatment. Going to work, working out, eating meals at specific times of the day, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, and other healthy habits will help you maintain a consistently positive routine that will help avoid drug cravings and temptations.

Your positive routine will keep you in a healthy state of mind where you know exactly what needs to be done each day. When you stay on a routine, you will also see success in other areas of life, such as good performance at work or school, better physical and mental health, and feeling more energetic.

Build a Sober Network

Building a sober network is also a great way to make positive connections who can look out for your best interest or be there for you in times of need. Your sober network will help encourage positive life choices since our peers can be very influential on our lifestyles. Seeing friends from your network regularly will also help keep you in a healthy state of mind and give you something to look forward to at different times of the week. This helps reduce drug cravings and temptations significantly.

Increase Self-Care Practices

Increasing self-care practices is also an important part of recovery from substance abuse and avoiding a relapse. Self-care practices that will help include:

  • Exercise: Starting an exercise routine is a great way to maintain healthy habits after treatment while improving your physical health. Your exercise routine will keep you on track and help you get out of the house to avoid isolation.
  • Healthy eating: Maintaining a healthy diet will keep you feeling good, energetic, and in a positive state of mind. When your body feels good, you will be less likely to have drug cravings.
  • Meditation: Mindfulness activities like meditation can help calm the mind in times of stress and keep you feeling grounded. Regularly meditating can be a great way to maintain sobriety after addiction treatment.
  • Positive thoughts: Maintaining positive thoughts and a positive outlook on life is also crucial to maintaining sobriety. During addiction treatment, you will likely work with a therapist who will help you through different positive thinking exercises. Maintaining these practices after treatment is a great way to practice self-care.

Relapse Prevention Strategies

Help a Loved One Cope with Addiction Relapse at Profound Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction relapse or is displaying warning signs of relapse, Profound Treatment can help. Profound Treatment is an evidence-based treatment center in Los Angeles, California. Our treatment models are designed to get you the best possible results in a comfortable and structured atmosphere. Our supportive and encouraging staff will be with you every step of the way during recovery to make sure you create healthy habits and help to prevent relapse potential.

Reach Out and Begin Healing

If you have experienced a relapse, we have many resources to help you get back on track with inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and therapies to help manage addiction. If you complete a rehab program at Profound Treatment, our facility will provide aftercare through check-ins, recommending local support groups, and helping you create a plan for long-term success. Contact us today for more information about how we can help you.

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