Last updated: September 25, 2023
It’s no secret that kicking a drug addiction isn’t easy. As a matter of fact, statistics show that even though there are FDA-approved treatments for alcohol, nicotine, and opioid addiction, over two-thirds of the people who begin treatment for these addictions relapse at least once. The urge to return to drug use lessens over time, but certain “triggers” can cause someone to struggle with the impulse to use for decades—maybe the rest of their lives.
What triggers a relapse?
We’re going to share five common triggers and give you some pointers to help you—or someone you know—form a plan to counter them.
Let’s get to it.
Stress is the reason most often given when a person is asked to identify what caused their relapse. Dealing with the weight of stress can seem to intensify exponentially because it’s the reason that many people turned to drugs or alcohol in the first place. Using drugs and alcohol as a “coping mechanism” leads to addiction more often than not.
That’s because once the brain accepts the chemical reaction caused by the drug as being “normal,” it sends out warning signals when the drug isn’t detected. The signals are known as withdrawal symptoms and they differ depending on the type of drug being craved. At best, they cause people to become physically uncomfortable in one way or another. At worst, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
The best way to deal with stress is to totally eliminate it from your life. Of course, that’s never going to happen in its entirety—unfortunately, dealing with stress is a natural part of life! Still, avoid situations that you typically found to be extremely stressful whenever possible.
Try making a list of people—anyone fitting the “toxic relationship” category needs to be put at the top—places, and things that cause you to stress out. Making changes in your lifestyle, relationships, and priorities allows you to reduce the number of stressful situations that you’re dealing with in life. That, in turn, reduces the likelihood that stress can trigger a relapse.
Other tips for avoiding stress triggers include:
- Learn some relaxation techniques
- Practice mindfulness
- Manage time effectively to avoid going into panic mode
- Focus on a healthy lifestyle—exercise and eat right
Identifying how your body responds to stress and recognizing those signs early on can keep stress from triggering a relapse.
Find new friends
Some recovering addicts find it easy to break away from the people that they associated with prior to seeking treatment. Others, however, can’t bring themselves to do so and, sadly, often doom themselves to failure. It’s not a good idea to be around people who drink and use drugs when you are in the early stages of recovery. As a matter of fact, it could still be detrimental to your sobriety even years down the road.
If relapse had a slogan, “Just this once…” might well be it.
Make another list. This one should include places where you can meet people who don’t use drugs and alcohol. For instance, do you have a hobby? Where can you meet people who share that same interest? Support groups are another place to meet people with whom you can form lifelong friendships. Many people recovering from addiction choose to spend more time with family members who support them in their recovery process.
Negative thoughts and emotions
People who used drugs and alcohol to cope with life need to find ways to deal with negative thoughts and emotions other than turning back to drugs and alcohol. A new thought process won’t come automatically but when you make a conscious decision to follow the steps you put in place, it will become automatic over time.
When hit with negative thoughts or emotions, use them as an opportunity for growth. You will learn a lot about yourself as you catalog what you’re feeling and figure out why it is that those emotions surfaced. It’s a tool that will become invaluable to you.
Journaling is one way to work through the process of redirecting negativity. Those who believe in the power of prayer wield it like the mightiest sword. Some professionals suggest learning meditation techniques as well.
When faced with the object of the addiction
Triggers can hit anytime someone comes upon a situation that reminds them of their addiction. Watching someone sip a cocktail at a restaurant or getting a whiff of marijuana smoke while driving down the road can trigger a desire that can be hard to overcome—especially in the early stages of recovery.
Even though the life of an addict is one lived constantly focused on the next fix, desiring to return to it is normal. It’s human nature to turn back to what we “know” when faced with challenges in life. That’s the same whether it comes to tackling several tough college courses during the same semester, navigating a new career, or conquering a drug or alcohol addiction.
Becoming drug-free by using sheer willpower to quit and, then, vowing to steel oneself to fight through each temptation to relapse from that point on could set many people up to fail. Instead, recovering addicts should focus on building a new life—a life filled with positivity. New friends, more time with family, and building a plan of attack that includes substituting negative behaviors with other things, such as working out, taking a hot bath, or grabbing your dog and heading for a hiking trail—he’ll be a willing companion every time. Promise.
Music can be a lifeline for some people and reciting positive mantras out loud on a daily… or minute to minute… basis works wonders for others. Words are powerful!
Still, it’s important to reflect on the past from time to time. People were hurt and relationships destroyed—never go back to that!
Just because you’re celebrating sober doesn’t mean it’s going to be a sober celebration for everyone. People view life challenges—and the role they play in someone else’s success who is trying to change—differently. There are some who will staunchly support you—as in banning alcohol from an event when inviting a recovering addict. Others expect you to deal with a situation by “standing on your own two feet.” In other words, they’ll carry on normally and the person in recovery just needs to suck it up and deal with it.
Yes, it does seem like a harsh remedy—and may possibly speak to a hidden addiction of their own. Still, they do have a point when these people make statements such as, “The world’s full of people like me. You need to learn to deal with it.”
We can’t expect everyone we come in contact with to make life easier for us. Ultimately, we are responsible for the situations we put ourselves in. If your path led to addiction, the road out is going to be rough from time to time. But the road evens out as time goes on and by taking one day—one step—at a time, you will see it through to the end.