Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Reducing the Risk of Relapse

The onramps back toward recovery.

Key points

  • It's common for people with substance use problems to struggle and even relapse.
  • Some reasons why include opting for short-term pleasure over long-term consequences and fear of change.
  • Understanding these risk factors can help people better cope with them and get back on the road to recovery.
Source: LoritaM/Pixabay

Thirty-two percent of people who attempt to stop drinking relapse within one year.

After leaving rehab, 49% of marijuana users relapsed the first day it was available to them.

Why do people relapse and how might they get back on the road to recovery when they do?

Simply, they like it.

They enjoy getting high in the same way that people enjoy eating. They may feel entitled to it: “Hey, it’s been a tough day; I deserve a little pleasure.”

When they are ready, they can take the onramp of substituting healthier pleasures, maybe even those yielding more pleasure and without substance abuse’s side effects. Examples include taking advantage of a creative outlet, such as music, theater, art, or writing, making new and better friends or renewing old ones, and trying healthier activities (for example, video games, binge-watching, sports, or exercise.

They opt for short-term pleasure even though it causes greater harm.

It may help to revisit all the suffering incurred from substance misuse. Examples include damaged family relationships, more unhappiness, less success, more embarrassment in your career. Perhaps there was a car accident they caused: Even if the victims were unhurt, at minimum, they experienced frustration in having to stop where they were going, perhaps wait for a tow truck, and then do without their car until it got fixed. Plus, if someone did get hurt, there’s the pain that they and their family suffered.

Is it time for the person in recovery to summon the good person within who can bring pleasure to others and more enduring happiness to themself? If not for themself, for their romantic partner or children?

They’re scared to change.

They’ve grown comfortable in a routine that includes substance use and are scared to face withdrawal and what life would be without substances. Might they want to map out, after they’ve quit, what an even more rewarding weekday and weekend day would look like?

They want to fit in.

In certain subcultures, drinking or getting high is the norm, and teetotalers are viewed askance. Can the person in recovery accept the following: If they don’t like you unless you use substances, are those the friends you want? Is it time to focus on friends who will accept you for you even if you don’t use substances? If they don’t have any such friends, they can join something where they’d likely find such a friend: perhaps a professional get-together, a sports team, or a Meetup on a non-drinking-related interest.

They rationalize.

They may fool themselves with one or more of these excuses: “It’s only once.” “I stopped before. I can stop again.” “Millions of people do drugs and don’t lose their job or spouse.” They need to be honest: Do they actually buy that stuff?

They feel more creative when high.

To the extent that’s true, that may well be because the person is more relaxed and thus not unduly inhibited. But there are side-effect-free ways to relax: for example, take a few deep breaths, go for a walk, enjoy time with a friend. Might any of those or other healthy ways to relax work for them?

It’s overwhelming to face life’s problems.

Some people get high to avoid dealing with their major life issues. If a person is loaded, s/he needn't think about his or her career and personal failings. “I have nothing to lose” is the more extreme corollary of the previous item. The person doesn’t have much of a professional or personal life and doesn’t see prospects for improvement greater than the good feeling when high.

The onramp has a toll: taking baby steps to improve one's life. Is there some easy-to-do step they want to take to improve their life? One example is to contact a friend to see if s/he could help with getting a better job or meeting a better romantic partner.

No post can adequately address a problem as challenging as addiction, but at least one of these ideas may be worth a try.

I read this aloud on YouTube.