Why Does an Alcoholic or Drug Addict Keep Relapsing?

Why Does an Alcoholic or Drug Addict Keep Relapsing?


What is it that makes a drug addict or an alcoholic continuously relapse, while others seem to finally “get it” and start living a successful life of recovery?

This topic is discussed at great lengths in recovery circles. Here are some of the possible reasons for a relapse that you’ll hear being thrown around when an addict inexplicably relapses:

They’re not ready yet. Obvious. And not very useful, either. Unfortunately, this statement is probably the most accurate. Anyone who relapses or fails to take any interest in getting clean and sober in the first place fits this criteria. Of course they weren’t ready yet. But why not? We can look deeper than this, and hopefully extract something more useful.

They are trapped by their environment….they need to change the people, places, and things in their lives. Conventional recovery wisdom goes against this idea, saying that a change in environment–such as moving to a new city in order to get a “fresh start” and quit drinking–doesn’t really work. On the other hand, the program advocates changing some of the negative influences in our lives if we are to remain clean and sober.

They’re not getting the spiritual side of the program. Anyone who is working with recovering addicts and alcoholics will tell you that the people who do not relapse are the ones who have really connected to the spiritual side of the program. This “connection” is characterized by a relationship with a higher power, the pursuit of personal growth, and a shift in personality away from self-centeredness. It is almost universally agreed upon that addicts who are on this path of spiritual growth do not relapse.

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They haven’t had enough pain yet. This is basically the same as “They’re not ready yet.” All the same, it seems that some addicts and alcoholics just have a higher tolerance for abusing themselves, and have to keep going back out there and trying it out again. They have another saying that goes along with this one, referring to relapse: “It never gets any better.”

Action Items – What you can do:

1) Only invest time in helping an addict in proportion to their willingness. In other words, don’t waste all of your time and energy trying to help a chronic relapser who is not really willing to put any effort into recovery.

2) Give them space to fail. Part of the journey involves pain. Everyone who gets sober only does so after enduring much pain.

3) Learn the basics – of how you can help addicts.


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