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7 Most Common Relapse Excuses

Relapse Defined

A relapse can be defined as to fall or slide back into a former state. When someone who abused alcohol or other drugs relapses, it means that they have returned to using their DOC (drug of choice) after a period of being sober. A relapse never “just happens.” Like, I don’t just fall on a needle filled with heroin one day and, boom, relapse! There’s often a pattern that we fall into that begins with what many call a “mental relapse” – thoughts and feelings that then dictate certain old behaviors. If we don’t access our coping tools then at this point a full-blown relapse is pretty much guaranteed.

Relapse: Excuse or Trigger

You probably hear people throw around the term “trigger” a lot when it comes to recovery- and relapse-talk. Now, it is true that there are people, places, things, situations that may trigger us especially in early recovery. And mostly what that means is that something (or someone) that we associate with our past active addiction comes up in sobriety and reminds us of our using. We might feel some anxiety flare up at that moment. But, having a program of recovery means that we have learned tools to access when this sort of thing happens. In my experience, people often say that they were “triggered” and therefore relapsed. This is when triggers become nothing more than mere excuses to use.

7 Most Common Relapse Excuses

To be clear, the following list includes situations that are real and that many of us in recovery encounter at one time or another. The purpose of this list is to be aware of these situations so as not to cycle into a relapse pattern.

Feeling Full of Self Pity

In Alcoholics Anonymous they describe self-pity as, poor me, poor me, pour me a drink. It means that like to play the victim and blame other people, places, or things for our situation. Self-pity is a counter-productive because it makes us powerless and unwilling to deal with the real cause of our problems.

Unrealistic Expectations for Recovery and/or Others

When people give up an addiction they justly expect for their life to improve. Giving up alcohol and drugs is a vital step, but it is just the beginning, there is much work to be done. And it’s common for us to expect instant gratification. That’s what we as addicts do! So, when things aren’t going our way (read: not improving fast enough for us) we think they’ll never get better so, might as well go out and get high.

As for expectations of others, we addicts often have low expectations for ourselves but high expectations for everyone else. This way of thinking is destructive because it always leads to disappointment and pain. Nobody is perfect, and it is not right for adults to rely too much on other people.

Lying and Other Forms of Dishonesty

You may have heard the phrase “being clean, living dirty.” This means that we might not be using (yet) but we are engaging in old behaviors – like the ones we engaged in during our active addiction. It’s only a matter of time before a relapse in this case. It is important to live and be spiritually clean if we want to stay clean.

Symptoms of Depression

Once the drugs are gone and the pink cloud has dissipated, we begin to get our feelings back – all of them. That means that, from time to time, we will experience symptoms of depression. It is a normal human emotion. As addicts, though, we tend to be pessimistic about things so, when the not-so-nice feelings come back, some people think, “well, if I’m gonna be feel this way, I might as well get high.” Just give it time, the feelings will pass.

Abusing Other Substances

This one seems like a no-brainer. The mere fact that you are using anything mood or mind-altering (this does NOT include anti-depressants) is a break in sobriety. But many people think they can drink from time-to-time because their DOC was heroin or they want to do the “marijuana maintenance program.” We must not fool ourselves – we can easily transfer our allegiance to something other than our original DOC, called addiction substitution or cross-addiction.

Taking Recovery for Granted Becoming Overconfident/Complacent

As addicts, it is common to have low self-esteem so developing a bit of confidence is a positive thing. If we become overly confident though, it can become dangerous, especially in early sobriety. We might become convinced that our problems are over, and begin to think that we no longer need to put much effort into our sobriety. This means that we stop doing those things that have been helping to keep us sober.

HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

Not taking care of ourselves and our recovery program properly can lead to situations when we experience any one, a combination of, or even all 4 of these at the same time. Research has shown that this is a prescription for relapse.


If you or a loved one is struggling with a relapse, substance abuse, or addiction please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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