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Recognizing Relapse Triggers

relapse triggers

Relapse is a common part of recovery. It can happen at any time, whether someone is just beginning recovery or has been in recovery for years. As a person leaves behind old habits, the temptation to use alcohol and drugs can still be strong. Certain situations and events are often especially tempting. A relapse prevention program plays an important role in rehabilitation, helping clients (as well as their friends in the family) plan how to deal with relapse triggers in advance.

What Are Relapse Triggers?

A trigger can be anything that brings up thoughts or memories associated with substance use—a strong emotion, a physical sensation, an environment, a place, or a group of people. Triggers are tied to brain chemistry; they activate certain parts of your brain, where there are strong associations between the trigger and substance use. They can be external triggers, people, places, and events in a person’s surrounding environment. Or they can be internal triggers or thoughts and emotions a person experiences.

Encountering a trigger doesn’t automatically mean you will relapse. But triggers often lead to cravings and impulses to use substances. Each person’s triggers are different, and people in recovery must be familiar with their particular triggers. This way, they can prepare to avoid these triggers or respond healthily.

Stress As A Relapse Trigger

People with substance use disorders often turn to their substance of choice to cope with overwhelming stress. Not surprisingly, stress is one of the leading causes of relapse.

Stress is a part of life and can’t be avoided completely. However, you may be able to identify stressful situations you can avoid. Or you can develop methods of preventing extreme stress and coping with difficulty, such as:

  • Getting enough sleep, since exhaustion makes stress worse
  • Practicing mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment
  • Developing time management techniques
  • Setting boundaries with others
  • Prioritizing healthy behaviors like exercise
  • Forming a strong support network
  • Seeking a sober living situation

The HALT acronym—Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired—is sometimes used in recovery to describe situations that can cause stress and make relapse triggers more intense. If you plan to make sure your physical, mental, and emotional needs are met, you can reduce the power of extreme stress.

Overwhelming Emotions

Emotions themselves can be triggers. When someone with a substance use disorder feels angry, sad, upset, lonely, or anxious, they may use substances to numb the effects of these feelings. In recovery, strong emotions can push a person into a state where they are vulnerable to relapse. They may automatically associate their negative emotions with cravings for substance use.

It’s hard to avoid emotions, but knowing your relapse triggers can help you plan healthy ways to tolerate these feelings. This process often involves becoming comfortable with uncomfortable emotions. Instead of pushing away the emotions with mind-altering substances, you’ll learn to sit with them and learn from them. Examining your emotions—analyzing why you feel the way you do and what that feeling means—can lead to tremendous growth in recovery. And over time, if you’re patient, upsetting emotions will pass.

People, Places, and Activities

Common relapse triggers involve people, places, and times that remind you of substance use, such as a favorite bar, a group of friends, a certain neighborhood, or the end of the work week. Even small triggers like sounds and smells may be associated with substance use.

Fortunately, these external triggers may be easy to avoid. A sober living facility can offer a fresh start if your living situation has plenty of opportunities to use drugs and alcohol. You can take alternate routes so you don’t run into triggering places or explore fun sober activities to replace triggering recreational activities.

If you can’t avoid triggers, you can devise new ways to think about them. For instance, if you’re romanticizing your substance abuse by remembering what a good time you had with your friends, you can think instead about the health and social consequences of continued substance use—and remind yourself why you chose sober living.

Footprints Beachside Recovery: Treatment for Your Needs

As a small center that only treats 15 clients at a time, Footprints Beachside Recovery ensures each and every client gets the personalized treatment they deserve. The individual, group, and family counseling with our expert therapists can help you identify and cope with relapse triggers. Our Florida sober living homes provide an ideal mixture of accountability and independence for clients who want a sober living option. You’ll live with others who are also in recovery and benefit from the mutual support.

Call 727.513.5972 to learn more about what Footprints Beachside Recovery offers. We’re here to help you every step of the way.