It’s a frustrating cycle. You commit to change. You go through withdrawal and start the recovery process. Then something happens. It could be a specific, stressful event. It could be the demands of day-to-day life. You might think that using this one time won’t hurt. Then, relapse. If you’ve found yourself wondering, “Why Do I Keep Relapsing?” you’re not alone. Relapse is a part of the recovery process for most people. Let’s take a look at why people relapse and what you should do if you relapse.

Why Do I Keep Relapsing?

It’s hard to ask for help. It can be even harder to ask for help a second or third time. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed that you’ve relapsed. That’s understandable. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that addiction is an illness.

“People see drugs are being used over family and work, but no one chooses to be an addict,” said Jonathan Morrow, M.D., Ph.D., in a Michigan Health article. “It’s not a life that people want to live; it’s a disease of the mind, and it’s not helpful to blame people for a disease that they have.”

Relapsing is a common experience for several reasons.

  • Addiction changes your brain. Addiction happens, at least in part, because it activates your brain’s reward system. The reward system is designed to incentivize us to do the things we need to do to thrive, like eat and spend time with loved ones. Substances like drugs and alcohol also activate that system, and the brain adapts by reducing our reward system’s ability to respond. We use more to get the same effect, and the cycle begins. We’re vulnerable to relapse because our brains have adapted, and it takes deliberate, sustained effort to overcome what our brains are telling us.
  • Genetics play a role. Researchers have found that genetics do play a role in addiction. Some of us are more vulnerable to addiction than others. This doesn’t mean we’re doomed to be addicted forever. People can and do recover from addiction every day. It does mean that some of us may need to work harder, and work through relapses, to overcome our addictions.
  • Life experiences also contribute. Our experiences also shape our vulnerability to addiction. In particular, many of us have experienced trauma. Our addictions may be one way we cope with that trauma. Again, that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome our addictions. It does mean that recovery is a process, and that we might relapse along the way. We need to learn new ways to cope with trauma, and that takes time.

Relapses are frustrating, but they are also part of the process. We wouldn’t get frustrated with someone for being sick; we know it’s not their fault. Addiction is also an illness, and recovery takes time. It’s not a linear process. We take steps forward, and sometimes we take steps back. That’s a part of the process. We reflect on our relapses, we learn more about ourselves and our triggers, and we start again.

What to Do if You Relapse

The most important thing to do if you relapse is to get help. You may be tempted to isolate or just throw up your hands and give up. While those responses are understandable, it’s important not to give up or disconnect. Keep going to support meetings. Talk about what happened and reflect on what led up to your relapse. And consider re-entering treatment.

A treatment program can give you support and structure as you go through withdrawal. Professionals aren’t going to judge you for relapsing. They know it’s a part of the process. They want to help. A professional treatment program can ensure you have the support you need to help you get back on the right path. You can continue to learn new coping skills and get support from peers who have been where you are right now. A treatment program provides structure and professional resources so you don’t have to cope on your own.

At New Life Addiction Counseling and Mental Health Services in Pasadena, MD, we understand that relapses happen. We’re here to help. We offer opiate detox for those going through opiate withdrawal. We offer outpatient support so you can continue your outside responsibilities. We offer group therapy and individual therapy to help you work through the reasons for your relapse. We can help you develop and practice the skills you need to stay sober.

We know paying for treatment can be a barrier to getting help. We accept most commercial insurance and Maryland Medicaid.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs. We’re here to help, and we understand.