Recovery Matters

10 Most Common Addiction Relapse Triggers

Some people believe that addiction relapse is inevitable – but that is absolutely not true. Being aware of these 10 most common addiction relapse triggers is your first step towards long-term addiction recovery. To say relapse is part of recovery is wrong, relapse is part of addiction.

One of most effective techniques for preventing relapse is to identify your personal relapse triggers and make a detailed plan on how you will manage them.

And while some common relapse triggers are obvious — like being around other people who are using — others are less straightforward.

Addiction is a cunning disease, and will try to sneak up on you when you are least expecting it. We have compiled this list of the most common addiction relapse triggers to get you thinking more deeply about how you can avoid triggers and stay solid in your addiction recovery.

Common Relapse Triggers and How to Manage Them

Relapse triggers can be broken into a few groups: emotional, mental, environmental, and those that are easily overlooked. Here we have listed the 10 most common relapse triggers and what to do to avoid them.

1. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. The acronym HALT is used to describe high-risk situations for those in recovery. When you are aware of this you can be vigilant in preventing yourself from entering those states.

If recovery is your priority, then making sure you avoid becoming too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired will also need to become priorities. This may mean planning meals, sticking to a strict sleep schedule, and attending support groups.

2. Emotions. Perceived negative emotions often lead people to use drugs or alcohol in the first place and can easily lead a person back to their drug of choice.

It is, however, impossible to avoid feeling sad, angry, guilty, or lonely all the time. Experiencing these emotions is normal and an important aspect of recovery (and life) – but they are uncomfortable! Learning how to cope with your emotions as they arise without the use of drugs and alcohol will be essential in early recovery.

3. Stress. Stress could possibly be the number-one addiction relapse trigger because of its broad range of effects on the mind and body. HALT can lead to stress, as can a thousand other circumstances that will differ for each individual. Losing a job or loved one, increased responsibility at home or work, and health problems can all create increased stress. The key here is being proactive about stress prevention and being mindful (and honest) about what causes stress for you.

4. Over-confidence. Becoming over-confident in recovery puts you at risk for relapse. Having self-confidence is necessary, but becoming over-confident to the point of complacency crosses a line from healthy confidence to over-confidence and relapse risk.

After some time in recovery, as life starts to even out, you may begin to feel like you no longer need to follow your relapse prevention plan. You might think you are strong in your recovery and put yourself in increasingly risky situations – while also no longer working a recovery programme. This is a definite recipe for disaster.

Stay humble by giving back to others if you can, and always remind yourself that addiction is a chronic disease; no matter how strong you feel you will never be able to have “just one.”

5. Mental or physical illness. Depression, anxiety, and other underlying mental illnesses can trigger drug or alcohol relapse. Physical illness and pain can also put you at risk for relapsing, as your body is stressed.

Prescription drugs for mental and physical illnesses can be mind-altering and trigger addiction and addiction relapse. Sharing that you are in recovery with your doctor and being insistent about providing non-addictive prescription drug alternatives is important.

Get treatment for any underlying mental illness and monitor your thinking and feeling with a journal to help notice when you are slipping into old patterns.

6. Social isolation. Reluctance to reach out to others, or form a sober support system through AA or another recovery group, can lead to social isolation and loneliness. The more you become socially isolated, the easier it is to rationalise drug or alcohol use to yourself.

Social anxiety can also be a relapse trigger for many recovering addicts, which is why having a counsellor or sponsor can help you avoid social isolation. Make forming a sober support network a priority in your recovery.

7. Sex and relationships. A common, but often ignored suggestion is to avoid dating in recovery for the first year, as this is one of the most common addiction relapse triggers. There are many reasons for this, one being that new romantic relationships can put you at risk for relapse. A break up with your new partner could lead you back to using due to emotional stress. A potential cross over from your initial addiction to a sex or love addiction; or using relationships to fill the void left by sobriety also create increased risk for relapse.

Remind yourself why it is important to avoid relationships in early recovery, and if you have more than a year of sobriety under your belt follow these tips for dating in recovery  to help make sure your transition to the dating world does not sabotage your sobriety.

8. Getting a promotion or new job. Positive life events are often overlooked as relapse triggers. Getting a promotion or new job can lead to an urge to celebrate. You may fall into the false idea that is celebrating with a drink or drug ‘just this once’ will be ok. Increased income can also trigger thoughts of being able to afford your drug of choice.

While a promotion or other positive event is exciting and can boost your confidence, it may also come with added responsibility, pressure, and stress. That’s why it is important to make a plan for how you will celebrate without drugs or alcohol in advance of actually being in this situation.

9. Reminiscing about or glamorising past drug use. Relapse is a process. If you find yourself reminiscing about times when you used to drink or use in a way that overlooks the pain and suffering your addiction caused, this is a major red flag towards.

Reminiscing can lead to your addictive brain taking over once again. Talking about past use can lead to thinking about future use, and quickly turn into action and probably the most common addiction relapse trigger.

If you find yourself in this pattern of reminiscing, do not ignore it! Talk to a sponsor, counsellor, or supportive friend about it — they will help remind you why you chose a life in recovery.

10. Social situations or places where drugs are available. Another one of the most common relapse triggers is putting yourself in situations where drugs and alcohol are available. It is not always so straightforward though — simply driving through an old neighbourhood or catching the smell of a pub as you walk by can be enough to trigger intense urges to use.

One of the first relapse prevention plans you make should be a list of people, places, and things that are strong triggers for you personally. When doing this, think outside the obvious and ask your sponsor or counsellor for help so you’re not later caught off guard by an emotion, sight or smell.

What Happens if I Relapse?

Even with the best-laid plans to avoid relapse triggers and prevent relapse, the risk is always there. If you do get caught off guard and slip-up, it does not mean that you are a failure and doomed to drug addiction forever.

Recovery is still possible, but the sooner you act after a relapse the better. Get some insight on what to do if you relapse, and remember that after a relapse you may need to attend additional drug or alcohol rehab to get back on your road to recovery.

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