6 Reasons Why People Relapse

Failure Is Not An Option…It’s A Necessity

Relapse Sucks no matter how you slice it. The feelings around the stigma of addiction are bad enough. When you add the feeling of failure to the mix it can be crippling.

The truth is recovery is a process that’s unique to each individual and whether it’s relapse or something else, everyone has failures along the way. Without them, growth is not possible.

My level of expertise in any area of life is directly related to the number of times I’ve failed at it.

Building momentum for sustainable recovery after treatment has been a journey of many failures for me. I ran out of fingers and toes a long time ago while counting the number of times I relapsed and started the process over.

I would get so frustrated when they’d tell me that my failures had nothing to do with their programs but that it was always my fault. It’s the only service business that I know of where it’s always the customer’s fault if the product doesn’t work.

It wasn’t until I spent years of personal struggle and thousands of dollars on treatment that I discovered the truth.

Most treatment centers are not in the recovery business.

The term “rehab” is often misused to describe treatment centers and can create unrealistic expectations for addicts and their families. Successfully healing from addiction requires that the addict understands the difference between treatment and recovery.

Regardless of whether you’re talking about addiction or a broken leg, treatment and recovery are two separate and essential pieces to the healing process. If you leave a hospital after being treated for a broken leg and immediately return to business as usual you’re going to fall on your face very quickly. The same is true when an addict leaves treatment.

There’s one important difference between those two scenarios, though. Addiction is a dis-ease of the mind. While an otherwise healthy person may have the mental capacity to follow through on a recovery plan for a broken leg, the addict most certainly does not. Believe me, I tried it from every possible angle imaginable and failed every time.

As a man who failed enough to succeed and as a recovery coach who has seen many clients go through the same struggles, I’ve noted some common things that will derail your recovery and cause you to relapse.

1. Lack of support. Most good treatment centers will help you create a solid plan for your recovery after you leave. Some will even help you implement them before you leave. Then…you’re on your own. Before you have the strength and balance to stand on your own, you need to get on the shoulders of others. This means getting plugged in to support groups and recovery professionals. It’s tragic to see how many people make such a huge investment in treatment and then fail to follow it up with the much less expensive recovery support they need to build momentum over the ensuing months.

2. No vision beyond getting clean. Most people who go into treatment don’t do it because they imagine a better life for themselves. They go because they’re in pain and they want it to stop. Pain is the greatest of all motivation when it comes to creating change in your life. In the early days, it’s usually all we have. The most basic part of our brains is used for survival and when we’re operating from that place it’s impossible to think creatively about anything beyond the immediate threat. The good news is that the intensity of human pain subsides very quickly once you begin paying attention to it and treating it. The bad news is, if you don’t have a vision of what you want in life after the pain, you have no motivation. Recovery, like all personal growth, is all about momentum. Momentum requires motivation. It can be tricky recognizing when it’s time to flip the switch from pain avoidance to pleasure seeking. That’s why #1 is there first. Get clear about what you want, create that vision in your mind, write it down, draw it, record yourself saying it, post it on your wall. Do whatever it takes to stir up the emotions you need to continue taking action.

3. Staring too long at the sun. Often, after we create that wonderful vision for ourselves, we can’t take our eyes off it and see the next step. Looking at that big, beautiful mountain with your dream castle on top can be every bit as overwhelming as it is inspiring. Get clear on your big vision and then reverse engineer it until you arrive at the small manageable chunks you can begin today. If you’re unsure how, refer back to #1.

4. Substituting another addiction. I always used to say there aren’t enough days and hours in the week to attend a different meeting for each of my addictions. After years of recovery from substance abuse, gambling took me to new depths of hell. There is a lot of debate out there about whether certain behaviors can be defined as addictions or merely compulsions or obsessions. My response to them is, who gives a shit? If I’m continuing with a behavior despite the fact that it’s ruining my marriage, career, health, or anything else meaningful to me then it’s an addiction in my mind. Many addictions begin with behaviors that are actually healthy and helpful to the person. Some of the more common ones are exercise, food, and sex but the list is endless.

5. Unreasonable expectations of yourself and others. I used to have all these covert contracts that said if I did X then this will happen. Every time something in nature didn’t abide by my contract I’d get pissed off and resentful. That usually was followed by me staying away from recovery and eventually relapsing. It’s important to realize that NOBODY will ever meet all of your expectations…even you. When a client asks me what a reasonable expectation is I say, expecting that at some point someone will fail to meet your expectations is a reasonable expectation. The better question to ask is how will you handle it?

Understanding that expectations are fantasies created by your own personal biases about the past will help you move toward finding solutions rather than magnifying the problem. Recovery is about being willing to view things differently than you used to.

6. Taking life too seriously. Often, recovering addicts no longer know how to have fun. It’s likely that everything you defined as fun revolved around using. Recovery and life aren’t meant to be a constant grind. If it was, what would be the sense of it? Reflect on the things you did for fun before your addiction. Even if that means going back to your childhood you can find clues to adult things you can do today.

Recovery, like all personal growth, is a lifelong journey full of amazing victories and growth stimulating failures. Embrace them all and keep moving forward.

Rock On!

Greg Boudle is a men’s recovery coach, published author, and speaker. His coaching program, 90 Days to Unf**king Yourself has helped many recovering addicts make the successful transition from treatment to recovery. His journal by the same name is a powerful tool on its own that has been used in Sober Living houses across the country.


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