Whether you’ve been to rehab and taken addiction therapy or you’ve quit on your own, it’s important to follow up and take steps to remain clean. Most people will eventually relapse at least a few times but taking steps to recognize and prevent triggers that might result in relapse will greatly improve your ability to stay clean or sober. Data shows that 40-60% of all recovering addicts relapse at least once, but most are eventually able to correct themselves and go back to recovery.
These 9 common relapse triggers represent some of the triggers that may cause cravings or push you into relapse. However, triggers vary considerably from person to person. It’s important to recognize your own triggers, either on your own or with your behavioral therapist, and work to develop coping mechanisms and mitigating measures for those triggers.
Stress is a primary contributor to addiction vulnerability so it makes sense that it would contribute to relapse as well. Stress is triggering in several ways in that it triggers a need for escape or release and pushes the brain towards impulsive and risk-taking behavior and in that humans are often inclined to self-medicate to feel better.
Self-Medication – Self-medication is the impulse to take something to relax, destress, or feel better. If you’ve ever poured yourself a drink after a long day, you’ve self-medicated. Self-medication contributes to addiction because it increases exposure to substances in individuals with chronic stress. This can greatly increase your chances of addiction. It’s worse for individuals in recovery, because you’ll need new coping mechanisms that don’t involve taking a drink or a pill. You should learn coping mechanisms in therapy and behavioral therapy, but if not, you should seek out cognitive behavioral therapy or an equivalent.
Stress management is crucial to maintaining your sobriety. If you’ve been to recovery treatment, chances are, you received some form of stress management there. Most addiction treatment centers offer mindfulness, medication, exercise, and stress-management courses. If you haven’t, it’s important to seek out stress management of some kind so that you have more tools to prevent relapse.
Social isolation is the concept of constantly being by yourself, whether through work, constantly being busy, or the fact that you likely have to leave your friends and maybe even family to maintain sobriety. Social isolation isn’t loneliness, but it is about not having social support, not having friends to go spend time with, not getting physical touch and contact that doesn’t involve casual sex, and not really having anyone to lean on or share with. Having this kind of social support is important for maintaining a healthy frame of mind, for managing stress and negative emotions, and for having someone to go to when you have to ask for help. You can look for social support in your friends and family, in self-help groups such as 12-Step Groups like AA or NA, or SMART recovery groups, or in new friends.
At the same time, one of the warning signs of relapse is often purposeful social isolation. People often pull away from friends, family, and support groups before they use, because they don’t want to let people down.
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Most people would think they’re more likely to relapse after a death in the family, grief, or losing their job. While these events can result in extremely negative and triggering emotions, people are more likely to relapse after positive events such as marriages, vacations, promotions, or graduation. Why? You’re likely on your guard and prepared not to use when something goes wrong. But when something goes right, you’re much more likely to go “I deserve this”, or “just once won’t hurt”. This is especially true in early addiction recovery, where you’re likely struggling to truly enjoy the results of your hard work or the positive event because your brain is producing less serotonin and dopamine.
Many people struggle with exposure and re-exposure. If you haven’t been around drugs or alcohol since recovery, you might relapse for no other reason than that drugs and alcohol are in the room, someone has offered them to you, and you didn’t have time to stop, think, and prepare a no. For this reason, many therapists will recommend that individuals in early recovery practice avoidance and try to keep drugs and alcohol out of sight and out of mind.
However, this tactic is a short-term tactic because you will eventually be around people or in places where drugs and alcohol are present. You should adjust to having them around and you should be able to say no. You can go to therapy to learn coping mechanisms, to learn how to manage cravings, and to prepare yourself for confronting drugs and alcohol again. Some therapies, like EDMR, actually focus on re-exposure, walking you through mental pictures of substances to desensitize you.
While substance exposure is one trigger, environmental exposure is another. This can include anything from a room where you used to drink or use to people you used to drink or use with and even an atmosphere. For example, if you used to use after work, you might be hit with cravings after work. If you used to go drink after a fight with a spouse, you might struggle not to do so now. And, if you used to go somewhere to drink or use with friends, you might be hit with cravings just seeing those places or those friends. Environmental triggers should be met with coping mechanisms, desensitization, and hopefully therapy to help you safely move past those triggers without relapsing.
Most people with a substance use disorder have some sort of nutritional deficiencies, which are related to both poor diet choices while addicted and the fact that many substances damage the gastrointestinal tract. Nutritional deficiencies contribute to a range of symptoms including depression, anxiety, fatigue, low mood, and poor health. Each of these can contribute to relapse through added stress, self-medication, and simply feeling bad. As a result, nutrition education and improved nutrition is associated with positive recovery program outcomes.
Most of us exit recovery and attempt to launch ourselves into our new lives. This can be positive in that you work hard for the things you want such as fixing relationships, your career, or your family. At the same time, it may also result in you overextending, failing to take time out, and overworking yourself. This can end up being a trigger for relapse, simply because you have no energy left when you do experience cravings.
Negative emotions like being sad, feeling angry, or feeling guilty can push you into using. For example, if you try to fix relationships with family and they push you away or aren’t ready, you might feel lonely or guilty. You’ll then likely have a harder time resisting cravings, simply because you know substance abuse will make you feel better. Negative emotions like anger, guilt, and sadness contribute to a negative cycle in addicts, where they frequently use to feel better, feel worse because they used, and make people around them feel worse, contributing to feeling sad, guilty, or angry. This cycle can continue once you go through recovery.
At the same time, you should never avoid negative emotions. Negative emotions are a healthy part of life and should be managed, dealt with, and used as learning experiences. Try to solve problems behind negative emotions, find healthy coping mechanisms, and go to family therapy if necessary to work on your interpersonal relationships with others.
Social pressure is often not a huge problem for individuals recovering from drug addiction but a very big one for those recovering from alcohol addiction. While this will depend on your friends and family, your social circle isn’t likely to cope well with you quitting substances. This may mean reducing your contact with old social circles, informing social circles that you don’t and cannot have drugs or alcohol, and taking steps to ensure you have a sober buddy when you are at events with people you know drink or use. This is especially important when you have friends and family who use or drink or people at your workplace do so.
Most people will experience cravings, will run into triggers, and will eventually relapse. What’s important is that you set up a support network, recognize when you are experiencing triggers, and work to get back on track as quickly as possible, even if you slip up. The most important thing is to keep moving forward, even if you occasionally take steps back. And, if you haven’t, you can likely greatly benefit from seeking out addiction treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy to learn coping mechanisms to help you manage triggers and move on.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and look into our recovery programs. Our Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Huntington Beach helps clients by providing them with addiction intervention services, detox, and residential addiction treatment.
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