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Relapse is a cardinal feature of alcoholism and addiction, and one of the most painful.
Most people who struggle with addiction will have one or more relapses – the return to drug use after a drug-free period – during their ongoing attempts to recover. This can be extremely frustrating for patients and for families, as they have already experienced great pain.
What leads to relapse?
Multiple – and often interactive – factors can increase the likelihood of relapse. These are some of the commonly cited precursors:
- drug-related "reminder" cues (sights, sounds, smells, drug thoughts or drug dreams) tightly linked to use of the preferred drug(s) can trigger craving and drug seeking
- negative mood states or stress
- positive mood states or celebrations
- sampling the drug itself, even in very small amounts
The motivation to seek a drug, once triggered, can feel overwhelming and sometimes leads to very poor decision making: the user will pursue the drug, despite potentially disastrous future negative consequences (and many past negative consequences).