10 Most Common Addiction Relapse Triggers
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There are some people who believe relapse is automatically part of the recovery process. In other words, relapse is inevitable. While relapse is definitely a concern, we want to reassure you that relapse does not have to be part of your story. Awareness can bring so much personal empowerment as you journey through your recovery from addiction. Becoming aware of the following relapse triggers is your first step towards a long-term addiction recovery.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 40-60% of recovering addicts will experience relapse. While these numbers may seem high, it doesn’t mean you have to be a part of this statistic.
One of the most valuable techniques for relapse prevention is to be able to identify your personal relapse triggers. Once you are able to identify them, you will be more able to create a detailed plan on how you intend to effectively manage them.
Some triggers are obvious and straight forward. For instance, it isn’t a great idea to hang out with friends at a bar or around people who are using drugs. While other triggers are much more subtle and your guard may be down.
Addiction is a disease. It will sneak up on you when you least expect it. Relapse will take you on a ride that often leads to derailment.
We have carefully compiled a list of the 10 most common relapse triggers. Our hope is for this list to get you thinking more deeply about how you can personally avoid triggers and live a life free of relapse. Is it easy? No! Not by a long shot!
Bringing awareness to the triggers that are unique to you is critical. Combining this knowledge with the tools you have been given will help you navigate your sobriety. You will be able to stand empowered to make choices that align with your new path of living clean and sober.
The 10 Most Common Relapse Triggers and How to Manage Them
The following list is certainly not definitive. Not all triggers may apply to you. There may be triggers you have noted about yourself that are not on this list. This is merely a guideline and meant to get you thinking.
It’s important to point out, relapse triggers can be broken into a few groups: mental, emotional, environmental and those things that often get overlooked. The following list addresses the 10 most common relapse triggers and tips on how you can avoid them.
1) HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired
The acronym HALT is commonly used in the field of chemical dependency counselors. It is used to describe situations that may be deemed as high-risk for those in recovery. Each of these 4 physical and emotional conditions leaves you vulnerable for relapse if not taken care of. Therefore, creating awareness around these 4 conditions can assist you greatly towards preventing a possible relapse.
Now that you are in recovery, this is your priority. It’s pertinent you take care of yourself while taking every precaution to not become too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. You will find self care to be a beautiful part of your recovery. This means you need to carve a little time out of your day to ask for help. Plan nourishing meals ahead of time. Create a sleeping schedule and stick to it. Remember to make your support groups part of your weekly routine.
2) Negative Emotions and Relapse
As a newly-sober substance abuser, you may have a lot of negative emotions circulating around in your mind. While you may feel motivated and hopeful at this stage, you are also likely to be experiencing a certain level of sadness, guilt, shame, anger and loneliness. These emotions are completely normal and an important part of life. Yet, they can be so difficult to navigate through.
Learning how to cope with your emotions as they surface without having to turn to substances is essential in your recovery.
3) Stress and Relapse
Quite often, stress can be the root cause of relapse and should always be seen as a potential danger to your recovery. Stress can sweep in with intensity, affecting you both mentally and physically. The loss of a loved one, termination of employment and increased responsibility at work all create stress. Your home environment, health problems and any sudden shift in life circumstances can lead to stress. If you are newly-sober or early in your recovery you need to actively manage the stress in your life effectively. Being proactive about stress prevention is key to your successful sobriety.
4) Physical Illness / Mental Disorder
Physical illness and/or pain can put your body into a stressed state. If you are seeing a doctor, be sure to notify them of your recovery. Seek out non-addictive options to guard against the risk of relapse.
Mental illness can also cause stress to your body. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses can contribute to a drug or alcohol relapse. As with a physical illness, be sure to let your doctor know of your recovery due to the nature of prescription drugs and their addictive properties.
It should be noted, if you do need treatment for your mental health, get the help you need. Monitor your mindset along with your emotions. You can begin by starting a journal to help you notice when you may be slipping into old habits that are counter-productive.
5) Overly Confident
Being new to recovery can bring on a much brighter outlook on life and your future. By the same token, it’s important to remember, becoming overly confident may put you at risk for relapse. While self confidence is necessary, becoming overly confident can bring a state of complacency and sets you up for a relapse risk.
As you work the program and spend some time in recovery, life may begin to balance out for you. You may begin to feel like you no longer need to follow your relapse prevention plan like you did initially. You may feel you no longer need to attend community meetings or work the program. Clearly, this is a recipe for disaster!
It’s important to never view yourself as being “cured”. You will never be cured of addiction. To remain healthy, it’s important to continue moving forward with your recovery program. Doing all of these things will help keep you happy and healthy. Otherwise, you will be putting yourself at risk while exposing yourself to high-risk situations.
6) Social Isolation
A strong and supportive network of people can serve as an anchor in your recovery. Therefore, creating a community is an important part of living your new sober lifestyle. Without question, reluctance to reach out to others can lead to social isolation and a sense of loneliness. Not to mention, this can become a pattern. Above all, this can lead to a rationalization to use substances again.
In addition, social anxiety is common among recovering addicts. For this reason, it’s important to have a counselor or sponsor within a sober support network. Your recovery is your top priority!
7) Sex and Intimate Relationships
While often ignored, it is advised to avoid dating in the first year of recovery. The same goes for sexual or intimate relationships. Some even go as far as to say, “Relationships = Relapse.” Without a doubt, new relationships put you at risk for relapse. Not only are you risking a possible break up, but also the emotional stress involved. Additionally, you could be trading your initial addiction to a sex or love addiction. So, using a relationship to fill a void left by your sobriety can also create an increased risk for relapse.
While relationships can be fun, new and fresh, it’s more important to focus on yourself. Especially your new life you are building for yourself and your future. While putting these relationships on hold, you will be giving yourself the opportunity to focus on yourself more deeply.
8) Increased Responsibilities within the Workplace
Positive life events equate to celebration. With these events come the possibility of a potential relapse. While a new promotion at work may be cause for a celebration, it can create triggers that cause temptation. The mindset that you will drink or use drugs “just this once” is a lie.
Likewise, an increase in income may trigger thoughts of now being able to afford your drug of choice. But with that added income, there will most likely be added pressure to perform, leading to more stress. We all want to excel. In addition, be aware of your thinking and who you choose to surround yourself with. Be mindful of how you choose to celebrate. All of this will assist you with protecting your recovery to avoid a potential relapse.
9) The Glamorization of Past Drug Use
Relapse is a slow process that will often sneak up on you. It’s common to recall memories and share stories from the past. However, the danger comes in when you fail to recall the pain points and suffering caused by your addiction. It’s important to recognize this as a red flag.
Talking about past drug use can lead your addictive brain into taking over. Your brain can subconsciously be planning a relapse. For this reason, speak up if you find yourself in a pattern of reminiscing. Talk with your counselor, sponsor or a supportive friend. Surely they can help you to be reminded of why you chose to live a life in recovery.
10) Social Situation
One of the most common relapse triggers is finding yourself in a situation where drugs and alcohol are readily available. Alcohol is socially acceptable and marijuana is not too far behind with all the new laws in place. For this reason, it can be difficult to navigate through recovery without feeling intense urges to use again.
Part of your relapse prevention plan should be to make a list of people, places and things that are strong triggers for you. Ask your sponsor or counselor to assist you with thinking outside what may be obvious so you aren’t caught off guard by sights, smells and emotions.
We are Here if You Relapse
Remember, even with the best relapse prevention plans to avoid relapse triggers, the risk is always there. If you do find you slip up and relapse, it doesn’t mean you have failed yourself or anyone close to you. It means you slipped and need to get help. The sooner you get help, the better.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is close to relapsing back into their addiction, please do not delay getting the help needed. Contact your support network immediately and ask for their guidance. Our experienced and compassionate team here at Free by the Sea is here to help you. Reaching out could be the most important thing you do in your recovery.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.