How to Avoid Relapse Triggers in Addiction Recovery
Many who have been in recovery, even for decades, struggled with relapses before they got sober for the last time. Those who are in the earliest stages of recovery are most vulnerable to relapsing, and research shows that more than two-thirds of recovering addicts relapse in the first few months of achieving initial sobriety. Because relapse is so incredibly common, many think of it as part of the recovery process and as more of a rule of getting clean rather than the exception – no matter how disheartening this idea may be. What helps successful individuals maintain their sobriety is learning their relapse triggers and having a plan in place for when they inevitably face their triggers.
What Is Relapse?
Relapse occurs when an individual with substance use disorder returns to their former, unhealthy state after temporary improvement after a period of being clean and not using their substance of choice once they’ve attempted to stop. While it may seem like it at the moment, a relapse does not indicate personal failure, and likewise, it doesn’t indicate prior treatment was a complete failure, either. What it does mean is that you are still (and will always be) in recovery and must resume active treatment and revise the course of treatment to meet your evolving needs in recovery.
Examples of Relapse Triggers & What to Do When You’re Confronted with Them
Many temptations arise in recovery, and they vary from one individual to the next. Triggers may be environmental, mental, or emotional.
Environmental Relapse Triggers
Drug-related cues that spark memories of places where you used drugs or alcohol or seeing people you associate with whom your prior substance abuse can be triggering. You may even hear a song in the grocery store that reminds you of them or a period of time you used while listening to that specific song. Even ordinary objects like pipes or spoons can trigger memories of drug use. Any or all of these types of triggers can bring about stress and make you seek out drugs to cope, as stress is the most prominent cause of relapse because of its powerful effect on the brain.
What to do when confronted with an environmental relapse trigger: These types of triggers are inevitable for any recovering addict. Rehearse what you will do in advance if you know an impending trigger is coming, say, like a friend’s wedding and your buddies will want to hit up the bars afterward. Have a response ready in advance, like calling your sponsor or going home to read a good book. By failing to prepare for these situations in advance, you put yourself in a vulnerable situation.
Mental Relapse Triggers
Similar to stress, experiencing high anxiety can also lead to an unfortunate relapse. Most people who have substance use disorder have a co-occurring disorder, many of whom suffer from anxiety disorder along with substance abuse. This causes a double-edged sword in which the substance gives short-term relief, but worsens the anxiety when the substance withdrawal starts or the substance cannot be obtained.
What to do when confronted with a mental trigger: When you’re feeling anxious, take active steps to manage it by practicing mindfulness, relaxing, and managing your time more effectively so you avoid stepping into the panic zone. Focus on healthier behaviors like incorporating light exercise and making healthy meals.
Emotional Relapse Triggers
If you carry physical or sexual abuse trauma and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may experience highly unpleasant flashbacks or reminders of the past which can trigger you to reach out to a familiar substance to quell the negative feelings. PTSD and substance use is another time of co-occurring disorder that enacts actual, physical changes on the brain and body.
What to do when confronted with an emotional trigger: Whether it’s PTSD or something not quite as severe, you still struggle with needing to find more effective ways to tolerate, manage, and make sense of the negative feelings you encounter in life. You can’t rely on substances to change your feelings anymore, and you’ll have to realize that those negative feelings aren’t necessarily the sign of an impending setback. View them as an opportunity for growth, and try to journal, meditate, or even pray to boost your mood and mindfulness.
Recognize Your Triggers & Get the Support You Need to Prevent a Relapse
Although the saying is “relapse is a part of recovery,” don’t take that to mean that you get a freebie pass to pick up that one drink or light up just once more. It’s a slippery slope, and that last snort, puff, or hit could be your last. Get the help you need to first recognize your triggers so you know what they are and can be prepared when you face the unavoidable. Our rehab center also has an online forum and sobriety meetups so you can discuss your triggers with fellow recovering addicts to learn more about how you can push past them in real-life situations.
Are you ready for a lasting journey toward sobriety that changes your life for the better? Our dedicated team of sobriety counselors at Mount Sinai Wellness Center is here to help you. Contact us at (800) 353-4673 or reach out online to get in touch with us today.