In the context of drug use, individuals may, at some point, decide to abstain from taking the drug following chronic use. Addicts engage in chronic drug use, followed by periods of abstinence, then in many cases relapse. Addicts decide to abstain due to the negative consequences that are often associated with the drug. Depending on the individual, abstinence time may vary.
In many cases, individuals relapse, and the cycle begins anew. There are several forms of abstinence that exist. Two common ones are forced and voluntary. Voluntary abstinence refers to an individual actively choosing to stop taking the drug. Forced abstinence occurs when an individual is removed from the drug environment. This makes them unable to have access to the drug.
An example of forced abstinence is in-patient rehabilitation treatment or incarceration. There are three main triggers of relapse: stress, drug re-exposure, and drug-associated cues. An individual may relapse if they are presented with a stressful situation that compels them to re-administer the drug that they used to take.
If the individual is in an environment where they are in contact with the drug, they may feel compelled to engage in drug-taking behavior (for example, someone who is practicing sobriety finds themselves in a bar and re-engages in drinking alcohol). Finally, drug-associated cues can be the environment in which the person used to administer the drug or the smell of a cigarette.
Individuals report that when engaging in abstinence, the longer they are not taking the drug, the more they crave it. This has been defined as the incubation effect.