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Table of Contents

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Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on November 7, 2023

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Relapse when things are going good is not uncommon in recovery.

It’s often unexpected that some individuals slip back during beneficial times, highlighting the importance of grasping the hidden triggers.

What prompts a relapse even when a person has good things going for them?

Why Do People Relapse When Things Are Going Good?

Life’s ups and downs are, unfortunately, inevitable.

Nevertheless, when someone experiences success fresh out of recovery, it can lead to an unsatisfactory accomplishment.

Creating a room for complacency.

This complacency can seem small, yet could plant the seeds for potential relapse, even when everything seems to be going well.

 

Success Leading to Overconfidence

One’s journey to recovery, filled with small victories and achievements, can paint an illusion of invulnerability.

It’s common for recovering individuals to chalk up a streak of good days to overcome their challenges entirely.

This overconfidence can be misleading.

When it comes to recovering from substance abuse, for instance, positive steps can sometimes give a false sense of complete recovery.

The belief that they are now past their challenges might cloud their judgment.

Every accomplishment, big or small, is a testament to your dedication and hard work.

Each is a beautiful step in your ongoing journey of growth and discovery.

 

Having the “Cured” Mentality

There lies a dangerous idea that once you’ve reached a certain point in your recovery, you’re “cured” or entirely past your problem.

This misinterpretation derives from a series of good days or even months.

But the path of recovery, predominantly from drugs or alcohol, isn’t about reaching an endpoint.

It’s about continuous growth and understanding.

Believing one is “cured” can dangerously negate the continuous effort required to maintain one’s progress.

Whether it be them having overconfidence thinking they have better control than they did the first time they indulged in whatever the addiction may be.

Maybe it is because they feel like they also have it under control now and won’t have a problem.

Something stressful may have occurred in your life, and you’re looking for a way to ease the pain and stress.

People can relapse for multiple reasons or maybe everything altogether.

Yet, life is always going through obstacles, and the road gets tough sometimes.

Reaching out to a sponsor, friends, and loved ones is vital during times like these when you begin to bargain with the idea of your sobriety.

Because returning to the wrath of addiction is never the answer, no matter how “comfortable” that lifestyle may seem.

Even with addiction echoing in your mind with uneasiness, being sober is best for you.

No one deserves to live a rough life that addiction entails. 

 

 The Danger of Letting Their Guard Down

In the face of positive changes and periods of calm, it might feel like the storm has passed for good.

Reduction in caution might also see them abandon the coping strategies they’ve learned, thinking they no longer need them.

However, these strategies are lifelines, especially during unexpected stressors or triggers.

Even during the good times, one should never underestimate the importance of the tools and strategies that helped them reach their current state.

Letting go of these tools, especially when things are going well, can be a recipe for disaster.

Recovery, in any form, demands a consistent effort.

Abandoning the foundation of coping tactics built personally to equip you for unexpected challenges or triggers makes it vulnerable to relapses.

While progress and success in recovery are worth celebrating, they also come with challenges.

Complacency can be a silent antagonist, emphasizing the necessity to remain proactive, informed, and vigilant in one’s recovery journey.

Recognizing these dangers of complacency and the importance of continual growth takes constant effort.

It can help individuals remain firm, ensuring they’re prepared for both the highs and lows of their journey.

Fear Of Success

As individuals navigate the highs of their recovery journey, it’s essential to recognize the hidden pressures and fears that success can introduce.

Unpacking these feelings is really important.

 

The Trap of Self-Sabotage

Recovery isn’t just about external challenges; sometimes, the internal battles can be taxing.

There’s a phenomenon where individuals often subconsciously create barriers to their progress.

This self-sabotage can stem from a belief that they haven’t earned their successes or from old patterns that resurface during times of progress.

 

Beliefs About Undeserving Success

For some, a lurking sense of not deserving happiness or achievement persists.

These feelings can be traced back to a lot of reasons.

Whether it be past experiences, upbringing, or intimidating societal expectations.

When positive changes occur, this underlying sense of unworthiness can cloud one’s perspective, causing doubt about their hard-earned progress.

Addressing these feelings is important, as they can act as unseen triggers, nudging individuals back towards old habits during periods of success.

 

The Weight of Heightened Expectations

Successfulness in holding responsibility for your sobriety is a huge commitment.

Especially when life already holds many expectations and responsibilities, it sometimes seems too demanding and challenging to keep up.

For many, the idea of keeping up with newfound success and the fear of potentially losing it can be overwhelming. 

This weight of expectation, whether self-imposed or from external sources, can lead to anxiety and fear.

Fearing the potential fall, some might preemptively retreat to old habits, thinking it’s only a matter of time before they slip.

The constant hold on these expectations and responsibility of sobriety can seem intimidating.

Recognizing the complexities and challenges accompanying success can empower individuals to approach their achievements with a balanced perspective, ensuring they’re equipped to handle both the joys and pressures of their journey.

Unresolved Emotional Triggers

As counterintuitive as it might seem, Life’s brighter moments can sometimes unearth hidden emotional landmines.

Unfortunately, even good events can cause some unwanted nostalgia for memories and associations that can be challenging for some.

 

Memories Brought to the Surface by Positive Events

As uplifting as they can be, Life’s achievements and milestones can sometimes inadvertently remind individuals of past struggles or adversities.

Reaching a new accomplishment might deviate from memories of past failures or challenges.

It’s in these moments of reflection that the ghost of old traumas can be most poignant, potentially leading one to seek solace in old habits.

 

The Historical Link between Celebrations and Problematic Behavior

For many, joyous occasions come with historical memories of detrimental behaviors.

Consider the individual for whom every celebration was accompanied by excessive drinking or drug use.

Over time, this repeated association cements a link between joyous occasions and substance use. 

Therefore, every new celebratory event might spark the urge to revert as the lines between celebration and substance blur.

 

Positive Triggers and Their Impact

Triggers are not exclusive to negative experiences.

A relaxing vacation, a casual party, or simply unwinding after a well-done job can all be potent triggers.

If, in the past, relaxation was partnered with a drink or drugs, the urge can resurface even during positive moments.

Recognizing that not all triggers are born from adversity, and some are linked to pleasure or relaxation is vital in preempting potential relapses.

Awareness of these triggers, both positive and negative, provides a protective layer against potential relapses.

Lack Of New Coping Skills

Life continually presents new challenges and stressors.

For many, the default reaction is to fall back on old comfortable habits, especially if they once offered relief or an escape, because it’s a “comfortable” habit that you know what will happen.

Even if the consequences are at risk.

This instinct is like muscle memory.

Under pressure, individuals lean on what they know, even if it is harmful.

However, personal growth requires continuous evolution of coping strategies.

Even during favorable times, one must not become complacent.

The danger of slipping into old patterns remains without regularly updating one’s coping tools.

The importance of ongoing support and therapy cannot be overstated.

While some believe therapy or support groups are only crucial during challenging phases, they remain invaluable across all seasons.

Regular engagement with therapists or support networks provides new coping techniques, reinforces positive behaviors, and ensures adaptability.

Such proactive measures help prevent relapses and equip individuals to handle current and future challenges more effectively.

The Role Of Environment And Peer Influence

Navigating through the recovery journey brings its own set of hurdles, even during brighter moments.

As life throws new curveballs or stressors, the efficacy of our coping tools can dictate our perseverance.

 

Old Habits

It’s ingrained in human nature to gravitate towards what makes us comfortable, especially in times of uncertainty or distress.

For many, this means returning to old, familiar habits that might not be in their best interest.

When experiencing newfound success, it’s expected to be tempted to lean on old coping habits to manage the unforeseen pressures of sustaining that success.

 

The Need for Continued Development

Achieving certain milestones in recovery, while praiseworthy, doesn’t signal the end of the journey.

Recovery is a commencement practiced daily.

It’s critical, even during positive phases, to continuously seek and embrace healthier coping methods.

This could manifest as adopting meditation techniques, engaging in consistent exercise, or exploring new passions.

By actively incorporating these strategies, one not only phases out detrimental habits but also equips themselves with robust tools to address potential relapse triggers, regardless of how good things might seem.

HobbiesBenefits in Recovery
Yoga and MeditationIt can help improve focus, reduce anxiety, and gain mental clarity.
GardeningConnects individuals with nature, offering therapeutic relaxation and a sense of accomplishment.
Art and CraftsProviding a creative outlet to express feelings and emotions, acting as a therapeutic tool.
JournalingAssists in introspection, emotional processing, and setting recovery goals.
Exercise or SportsBoosts physical health, reduces stress, and increases self-esteem and endorphin production.
Music (Playing or Listening)It soothes the mind, reduces anxiety, and offers a healthy emotional outlet.
ReadingIt expands knowledge, offers escapism, and improves cognitive functions.
Cooking or BakingIt acts as a therapeutic activity, enhances creativity, and promotes healthier eating habits.

Life straight out of recovery can be challenging.

Constructing new routines and getting rid of all these old habits that you’ve felt comfortable with can seen as nostalgic and tempting at times, but you don’t want to destroy all your hard-earned progress.

Continued Support Foundation

Sustained support in recovery is essential and can’t be understated.

Whether through individual counseling, group meetings, or regular dialogues with trusted individuals, the wisdom and encouragement derived from these interactions are indispensable.

Therapy sessions can be a great backbone of foundation, offering a space to identify and address latent triggers, gain fresh insights, and reinforce one’s dedication to staying on track.

Dissecting the complexities of relapse requires both reflection and the guidance of external perspectives.

Recovery demands the continuous honing of healthier coping strategies and an unwavering circle of support, ensuring resilience, especially during the most positive stretches of the journey.

Neurological Factors

Understanding the neurological factors at play becomes vital, especially when influenced by drugs and alcohol, and can provide insights into the challenges faced by recovering individuals.
Brain Pathways/ Long-term Effects Addiction alters the brain’s structure, creating strong associations with the substance. Even after long periods of abstinence, triggers can activate these pathways, causing cravings.
The Brain’s Reward System The brain’s reward system, which releases dopamine, can become reliant on substances for pleasure. This altered state may lead to relapse even during positive life periods.
Continuous Therapy Therapies like CBT are essential for long-term recovery, helping reshape thought patterns and coping strategies.
Potential Medication Medications such as Naltrexone or antidepressants might be needed to address the biological aspects of addiction, reducing cravings and stabilizing mood.

Overwhelm from Positive Emotions

During the path of recovery, many find that while they’ve built resilience against negative triggers, handling the wave of intense positive emotions can become a challenge.

 

Difficulty in Processing Intense Emotions

Surprisingly to many, positive life events such as birthdays, anniversaries, or career achievements can become triggers.

The sudden rush of happiness, pride, or love can be as intense as any negative emotion.

For someone who has used substances to cope with strong feelings in the past, these powerful surges of positivity might feel unfamiliar and overwhelming.

There’s a vulnerability in joy, especially for those unaccustomed to feeling it in its raw, undiluted form.

 

Using Substances or Negative Behaviors to Temper Overwhelming Joy or Excitement

For years, substances might have been a tool to numb emotions, both good and bad.

So, when faced with a flood of positive emotions, the instinct to “tone it down” or regulate it with substances might resurface.

This isn’t about avoiding happiness!
It’s about the discomfort of fully embracing it without the protective barrier drugs or alcohol once provided.

 

The Need for Emotional Regulation Skills

Emotional regulation isn’t just about managing anger, sadness, or anxiety.

It’s also about navigating happiness, excitement, and love.

As part of ongoing therapy and personal growth during recovery, learning to experience and express positive emotions healthily is crucial.

Engaging in these practices allows individuals to fully experience their emotions without feeling overwhelmed or resorting to old, harmful coping mechanisms.

 It’s not just about the external triggers or negative emotions.

The intensity of positive feelings and the challenges they bring to the fore highlight the intricate nature of human emotion and the continuous effort required in the recovery journey.

Reflecting on Relapses

Understanding Relapse in Good Times The journey of recovery is nuanced, presenting its own set of challenges even during prosperous periods. It prompts the question: Why do people relapse when life seems to be on an upward swing?
Multi-Dimensional Triggers Relapse is seldom the result of a single factor. From the deceptive comfort of overconfidence to the nuanced effects of neurological changes, the triggers are varied and complex. Recognizing the multi-faceted nature of relapse can aid individuals and their support networks in crafting a more holistic approach to recovery.
The Pillars of Resilience At the core of sustained sobriety are self-awareness, robust support, and adaptive coping strategies. It’s essential to remain vigilant, constantly nurturing these pillars to withstand the allure of old habits, especially during times of prosperity.
Proactive Preparedness Being cognizant of the potential pitfalls, even amidst triumphs, is empowering. It prepares those in recovery to face unexpected challenges with resilience and strength. By remaining equipped and aware, individuals can fortify their defenses, ensuring their path to recovery remains steadfast.
A Closing Note of Encouragement Setbacks are not the measure of one’s recovery journey. With perseverance, support, and the right resources, navigating the complexities of sobriety, even in the best of times, is entirely possible. Remember, every day is a testament to your resilience and commitment to a healthier life.
Having loved ones and understanding yourself, having some source of support with all the right tools to help maintain sobriety, even during the best of times in life can really help keep relapsing out of the picture.

Getting Help for a Relapse

Every person’s path to recovery is unique, with its own set of challenges and triumphs.

Experiencing a relapse when life is seemingly on an upswing is not unusual. The journey toward lasting sobriety can present challenges in moments of joy just as it can in times of strife.

Relapses, whether isolated incidents or recurring hurdles, are serious and complex. They stem from various causes—perhaps an overestimation of one’s control over their addiction or the search for solace during stressful or traumatic times.

Obstacles are a constant in life, making the path forward sometimes daunting.

In such moments, the support of a sponsor, friends, and family becomes crucial. It’s essential to reach out when you’re negotiating with thoughts of breaking your sobriety.

The importance of seeking help cannot be stressed enough.

Please, make the call; reverting back to old addictive habits is not the answer, no matter how soothing the familiarity of past habits might feel.

Choosing sobriety each day can be daunting, but the consequences of addiction will never outweigh the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.

Everyone is worthy of a life free from the hardships addiction brings.

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Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert
RECOVERY WRITER & ADVOCATE

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director
CLINICAL DIRECTOR & REVIEWER

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

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