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Common Relapse Triggers

After completing an addiction treatment program and re-entering one’s day-to-day life, the risk of relapse feels more real. While it’s difficult to predict exactly what would be your specific triggers, it’s possible to identify common causes of relapse and to plan accordingly.  

What is a Relapse Trigger?

Triggers are cues that compel a person in recovery to seek their substance of choice again. They can include people, places, or things tied to past use, as well as memories of using. They may be social, emotional, or environmental in nature. Addiction is a disease of the brain, impacting the reward system, and therefore it takes time to break the strong associations between substance use and general activities and things in daily life. Some triggers may be obvious – for example, continuing to spend time with old drinking buddies can wear down one’s resolve over time. Visiting old haunts can have the same effect. However, there are a few specific situations that may spark the craving for drugs or alcohol again.  

Common Relapse Triggers

Clearly, being around one’s substance of abuse or people, places, and things associated with past drug and alcohol use can serve as major catalysts for relapse. Today, we’ll instead explore five lesser-known triggers.

  1. Boredom. This surprising answer tops our list because it is often downplayed in post-treatment planning. The transition from the highly regimented, structured environment of a treatment center to daily life can be jarring. If you don’t fill your days with healthy activity, negative thoughts and bad habits can re-emerge.
  2. Parties and celebrations. Weddings, career milestones, birthday parties, and other events can all serve as catalysts for relapse. The jovial atmosphere and abundant alcohol supply can tempt even the most steadfast members of the recovery community. For this reason, you may want to avoid such events until you are more established in your sobriety; otherwise, attend with another sober friend who will hold you accountable.
  3. Physical discomfort or stress. Consider the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, tired. If you find yourself eating poorly, becoming frustrated, isolating yourself, or staying up all night, you’re not setting yourself up for success. High levels of discomfort can catalyze impulsive behaviors that you will later regret. Similarly, having a tough day at work or school requires you to cope in a healthy way – if you don’t, relapse is a possibility.
  4. Success. As upsetting as it is, personal victories can jeopardize recovery. Receiving a promotion or a good grade may cause you to wonder if an addict could do such a thing; therefore, if you could achieve these things, you must not really have a problem! By falling out of touch with your past, you risk your future.
  5. Relationship issues. Fights and poor communication with one’s spouse, friends, coworkers, or family members can be extremely upsetting. While you seek to repair these relationships, there will inevitably be some bumps along the way. Don’t hesitate to contact your sponsor or another sober friend if things get heated with your loved ones.

  How Does Relapse Happen? Many people have the mistaken belief that relapse is a sudden occurrence – that it happens all at once, without warning. In reality, there are three distinct phases of relapse that may take place over an extended period of time during one’s recovery journey. The three stages of relapse are:

  • Emotional relapse
  • Mental relapse
  • Physical relapse

Emotional relapse is characterized by someone unplugging from their recovery. They may bottle up emotions and stop sharing at meetings. Eventually, their meeting attendance can lessen or even stop altogether. They begin isolating themselves from others and see a deterioration in their quality of life – poor sleep and diet are common. After a prolonged period of deficient self-care, mental relapse begins. The longer someone feels uncomfortable and discontent, the more tempting it becomes to use again. During this phase, they go back and forth between using or maintaining their sobriety. Warning signs include cravings, thinking about people and places associated with past use, idealizing past use, minimizing the consequences of relapse, bargaining, and lying. Some people even plan a relapse at this point. When someone physically relapses, it is the last stage of the relapse process. They may fall back into a pattern of addicted use, or they may use only once, realize their mistake, and choose to move forward in recovery.  

The Gift of Lasting Recovery

Segue Recovery Support provides ongoing, long-term assistance to those in recovery from addiction and alcoholism. Our case management and recovery coaching services create an environment of accountability and opportunity for early intervention. If you or someone you know could benefit from additional support in recovery, call 1-833-485-0789 today.