Why Do People with Addiction Relapse When Things are Going Good?

Why Do People with Addiction Relapse When Things are Going Good?
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A common question among friends and family members of those with addiction is: Why do people relapse when things are going well?

We’ve seen this happen to countless celebrities, but it really hits home when it’s someone close to you. You’ve seen the work they’ve put into recovery, and just when things seem to be going well, they turn back to substances. It’s frustrating and upsetting, but it is part of the process for many.

It’s a common misconception that people only turn to substances when they are feeling bad. In reality, substance use re-writes brain chemistry, and this can cause people to default to what they know best whether things are going well or poorly. Remember, relapse is not failure. It’s simply a bend in the recovery journey.

Let’s learn more about why relapse happens when things seem to be moving in a positive direction and how you can help a loved one.

Understanding Addiction and Relapse

Addiction is a complex condition that leads to compulsive behaviors despite negative consequences. While a person does make the initial choice to experiment with drugs or alcohol, no one wants to derail their life with addiction. Unfortunately, for some individuals, the perfect storm occurs (i.e., genetics, environment, peer pressure), and an addiction forms.

When a person enters recovery, it is not a linear path. Instead, it’s a cyclical path, marked by periods of remission and relapse. This is why it’s important to recognize addiction as a chronic disease, as it’s not something that you just “get over.” If you believe this misconception, you’ll end up feeling frustrated and let down by the recovery process.

You’ve probably heard that relapse rates are between 40 and 60 percent. However, this does not mean that only half of people recover. Habits are hard to break, and many people won’t succeed on the first try. Think of how hard it is to break other habits like biting your nails or cracking your joints. The same is true with addiction – it can take many tries before you recover.

Why Do People Relapse When They are Doing So Well?

When a person is doing well in recovery, why would they end up relapsing? There are many causes, and here are some of the most common:


When a person experiences addiction, their life is in a constant state of chaos. Their time is spent getting the substance, using the substance and recovering from the substance. They may have the illusion that their drug or alcohol use makes their life tolerable and even enjoyable. However, they’re usually experiencing problems in their relationships, having difficulty maintaining employment and struggling with their physical and mental health.

Recovery is the complete opposite. It offers peace, calmness and consistency. However, some people have a difficult time adjusting to this. They may find themselves romanticizing about drugs or alcohol and craving a sense of adventure or excitement. People who are new to recovery are most at risk for this, as they haven’t yet developed new healthy ways to enjoy their time.


Another reason why some people relapse when things seem to be going well is due to overconfidence. Pink cloud syndrome is a phrase that refers to a person who is new to recovery and riding the wave of bliss. They are so happy to be sober that they overlook the work that goes into the process and the ups and downs that can occur.

While confidence is a good thing, overconfidence can become a problem. It can cause people to put themselves in situations that they’re not ready for, increasing the risk for relapse. It’s important to know that relapse is a process, so you will usually notice your loved one skipping meetings and no longer engaging with their support community first. They might assume they don’t need this support any longer, which is not the case.

Low Self-Esteem

Many people who experience substance use also have low self-esteem. In fact, it may have been the low self-esteem that led them to use substances to loosen up around others. Unfortunately, having low self-esteem can cause a person to feel like they are not deserving of a happy, healthy lifestyle. Therefore, they end up self-sabotaging their recovery and reach for substances again.

While you can’t fix low self-esteem overnight, this is something that can be worked on. The first thing is to acknowledge the low self-esteem and work on building it up. This can be done through therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves challenging unkind thoughts about yourself. Other ways to improve self-esteem include practicing self-care, saying positive things to yourself, learning to say no and avoiding comparisons.

Moving Forward after Relapse

Relapse is a process that involves three stages: emotional, mental and physical. By recognizing the signs of relapse, you can intervene and encourage your loved one to get the support they need to prevent a return to use. If relapse does happen, know that it’s a bump in the road and not failure. Most importantly, know that a person can relapse at any time, even when things seem to be going well. A person does not have to be unhappy for relapse to occur.

If you or a loved one has addiction and is experiencing relapse, Pura Vida in Santa Rosa, CA is here for you. Our treatment program offers evidence-based and alternative therapies in a caring, compassionate setting. We will walk with you through every step of the healing process, ranging from detox to inpatient treatment to outpatient treatment. To learn more about services, contact our admissions team at 1-707-879-8432.