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Why Do Addicts Relapse When Things Are Good

Depressed anxious person suffer from trauma, solitude or drug addiction. Homeless outcast with shame after mistake

Recovery from addiction constitutes an ongoing voyage marked by both accomplishments and trials. Amidst the labyrinth of addiction recovery lies the enigmatic occurrence of relapse, particularly when circumstances appear favorable for the individual. This paradox has confounded experts and those grappling with addiction alike: the question arises, why do individuals in recovery experience relapse during times of apparent positivity? Throughout this blog, we will explore the essence of addiction, the concept of relapse, and the intricate interplay of psychological, physiological, and environmental elements that contribute to this confounding behavior.

What is Addiction?

At its core, addiction stands as an intricate and chronic neurological condition. It manifests through the insistent and uncontrollable pursuit of a substance or behavior despite adverse outcomes. This condition profoundly affects the brain’s reward system, leading to substantial alterations in cognition, behavior, and decision-making processes. Those entrenched in addiction often confront formidable challenges in halting their participation in the addictive behavior or ceasing substance use, even when such actions yield detrimental physical, psychological, social, or financial consequences.

Addiction emerges in diverse forms, encompassing both substance addiction (such as drugs or alcohol) and behavioral addiction (like gambling, gaming, or overeating). While the specific manifestations might differ, the fundamental mechanics of addiction remain remarkably consistent across various categories.

Key Characteristics of Addiction:


You might experience an overwhelming urge or compulsion to engage in the addictive behavior or use the substance, often seeking relief from discomfort or pursuing pleasure.

Loss of Control:

During addiction, you could find it challenging to manage your consumption or engagement, even if you genuinely intend to stop. This struggle for control is a defining aspect of addiction.


Intense cravings and a powerful desire for the substance or behavior are common in addiction. These cravings might arise due to various triggers, like surroundings, emotions, or memories linked to the addictive behavior.


Over time, you might develop tolerance, which means needing larger amounts of the substance or engaging in the behavior more frequently to achieve the same enjoyable effects.


When you cut back or quit the addictive substance or behavior, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. These can include physical sensations like nausea, trembling, or sweating, as well as emotional responses such as anxiety, irritability, or depression.

Negative Consequences:

Even though you’re aware of the negative outcomes tied to addiction, you might continue with the behavior or substance use. These adverse effects can impact various aspects of your life, including your health, relationships, work, and overall well-being. This internal conflict illustrates the intricate nature of addiction.

What is a relapse?

You might find yourself returning to a previous behavior, which could be undesirable or harmful, after a period of abstinence, improvement, or recovery. What is a relapse? Specifically concerning addiction, relapse is when you resume substance use or engage in the addictive behavior after a period of sobriety or dedicated recovery efforts.

In the world of addiction and recovery, relapse is something that commonly occurs. It’s important to remember that relapse doesn’t signify failure or weakness on your part. Instead, it sheds light on the intricacies and difficulties that come with conquering addiction—a condition that is both chronic and prone to relapses.

Stages of Relapse:

What is relapsing? Relapse typically occurs in stages, and understanding these stages can be helpful in preventing and managing relapse:

Emotional Relapse:

What is relapsing emotionally? In this stage, an individual isn’t actively thinking about using substances, but their emotions and behaviors are setting them up for a potential relapse. Signs of emotional relapse might include bottling up emotions, isolating oneself, neglecting self-care, and experiencing mood swings.

Mental Relapse:

What is relapsing mentally? During this stage, the individual starts to experience internal conflicts. Part of them wants to use substances, while another part recognizes the negative consequences. Signs of mental relapse include obsessive thoughts about using, glamorizing past substance use, hanging out with people from one’s using days, and lying.

Physical Relapse:

What is relapsing physically? This is the final stage, where the individual actually engages in the addictive behavior or uses the substance. It’s important to note that physical relapse often follows a mental and emotional process, and the earlier stages provide opportunities to intervene and prevent it.

Understanding Addiction and Relapse

You might recognize addiction as a deeply intricate phenomenon shaped by the interplay of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. It’s not simply about having weak willpower or lacking self-control. Instead, it’s a chronic brain disease that profoundly influences the way you think, feel, and behave. To grasp why you, someone in recovery, might encounter relapse during periods of positivity, delving into the underlying mechanics of addiction and the intricate triggers of relapse becomes crucial.

Exploring the Neurobiology of Addiction

At the center of addiction lies your brain’s reward system—a network of structures responsible for processing pleasure and reinforcement. This system undergoes a takeover by addictive substances, causing a disruption in your brain’s natural reward mechanisms. Initially, substances like drugs or alcohol flood your brain with neurotransmitters like dopamine, evoking intense sensations of pleasure and euphoria. As time passes, your brain adjusts by decreasing its inherent dopamine production in response to these substances. This alteration diminishes your capacity to derive pleasure from sources other than the addictive substance.

This rewiring of your brain creates a potent craving for the substance. This craving is driven by the desire to restore your brain’s equilibrium and relive the pleasurable sensations. Even when you’ve abstained from the substance for a while, your brain’s reward circuitry remains hypersensitive. This hypersensitivity leaves you highly susceptible to triggers that remind you of your past substance use. These triggers could include specific locations, people, emotions, or sensory cues. Why do addicts relapse when things are good? When you encounter these triggers during positive times, you might find yourself grappling with intense cravings that prove challenging to overcome.

Understanding the Role of Dopamine and Trigger-Induced Cravings

You might be familiar with dopamine as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that assumes a central role in the addictive cycle. When you engage in substance use, dopamine surges through your brain’s reward circuit, strengthening the link between the substance and feelings of pleasure. As time progresses, cues tied to substance use become intertwined with this dopamine release. Consequently, encountering these cues during positive moments can incite powerful cravings and potentially trigger a relapse.

For instance, if you’ve used a specific type of drug in a particular setting before, merely being in that environment could generate intense cravings—even if your life is currently going well. Your brain has formed an association between that environment and the pleasurable impact of the substance, leading to a conditioned response that’s difficult to overcome.

Psychological Factors and Self-Medication

It’s possible that you, like many individuals grappling with addiction, have underlying psychological concerns that initially contributed to your substance use. These issues might encompass unresolved trauma, anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. During phases of positivity, when life appears to be improving, these underlying problems might resurface unexpectedly.

Confronting these emotions can be daunting and overwhelming, especially if you haven’t yet developed healthy coping mechanisms to manage them. In such instances, the allure of self-medication can become compelling. The substance can serve as a fleeting escape from these distressing emotions, bestowing a sense of relief and control. That is why addicts may relapse when things are good. However, this coping mechanism can rapidly lead to relapse, as you seek to regain the emotional relief that you’ve associated with substance use.

The Social and Environmental Context

Addiction is influenced by the social and environmental context in which an individual lives. During periods of positivity, social situations and environments might change. New friendships, romantic relationships, or professional opportunities can arise. While these changes can be positive, they can also introduce new triggers and challenges.

For example, celebrating a career success with colleagues might involve social drinking. While others might enjoy a glass of wine in moderation, for someone in recovery, this scenario can be fraught with risk. The pressure to fit in or the desire to partake in celebratory drinking can lead to rationalizing “just one drink,” eventually escalating to a full relapse.

The Fragile State of Recovery

Why do addicts relapse when things are good? Recovery is a fragile state that requires ongoing effort and commitment. Achieving stability and positive life changes is undoubtedly an accomplishment, but it’s crucial to recognize that addiction is a chronic condition. The brain’s neuroplasticity means that it can quickly adapt back to its addicted state if the right triggers are present.

In a sense, achieving good times can create a false sense of confidence. The individual might believe that they have conquered their addiction and are no longer vulnerable. This mindset can lead to complacency, neglecting the strategies and support systems that were crucial during the earlier stages of recovery.

Meet with an addiction specialist in NYC today!

Addiction is a disease and that’s why it may be hard to grasp why addicts relapse when things are good. However, understanding addiction, recognizing warning signs of a relapse, and learning addiction coping tools can help. If you find yourself struggling with addiction in NYC, reach out to Uncover Mental Health Counseling for addiction counseling. Our addiction specialist in NYC can help. Follow these simple steps to get started:

  1. Contact us at Uncover Mental Health Counseling to schedule a free consultation call.
  2. Meet with a NYC addiction specialist for your first session.
  3. Start receiving the support you need to prevent relapse.

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