6 Relapse Triggers for Drug Use & How to Avoid Them
Relapse triggers are environmental, social, mental or emotional situations that remind someone in addiction recovery of their past drug and alcohol use. These triggers are like mental cues that can create the innate urge for someone to use alcohol or drugs again. Situations like this may lead to a relapse if left unchecked. Different triggers affect people in different ways and they can greatly increase the likelihood of a relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 40-60 percent of people who get treatment for a substance use disorder (SUD) eventually relapse.
Much like other diseases, relapse is a normal part of recovery. For certain drugs however, relapse can be very deadly because a person who relapses may take too much of the drug, thinking they can handle their “normal dose”. Without the tolerance they built up during their long-term drug use, the “normal dose” can be too much for their bodies to handle, resulting in an overdose. Unfortunately, sometimes this can create the potential for a drug overdose death.
Avoiding your relapse triggers is a great strategy to prevent a drug overdose and untimely death from happening. Today, most in the drug rehabilitation industry recognize that sometimes relapse happens, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your recovery from addiction has failed. To avoid these common relapse triggers, you should develop a relapse prevention plan that can address your unique, specific individual needs.
Since everyone in recovery, (especially early recovery) is vulnerable to relapse, the best step towards avoiding relapse triggers, is to know what they are. Identifying these triggers, while monitoring your thought patterns and behaviors is an important technique to consciously employ when you first begin sobriety.
1. Mood swings and stress: If there’s one constant, persistent feeling for someone who has just began their path to sobriety, it is that your recovery can be riddled with uncertainty. Your brain has grown accustom to living and responding to external stimuli a certain way. Situations, relationships, emotions attached to those were essentially numbed while you were using. Now that you’ve stopped using alcohol or drugs, your brain doesn’t know the appropriate way to respond, which can be very stressful. Everything is changing around you and that can be scary for a lot of people coming out of thier addiction.
This uncertainty of how to respond to difficult situations can easily cause someone to romanticize their past use. You can quickly begin to believe that using alcohol or drugs is the only way for you to feel “normal” again. This is a slippery slope, with dangerous consequences.
It is best to recognize your difficulty in processing emotions that arise early in recovery and learn to step back from them when it becomes overwhelming. Take it slowly and don’t let your mind run away to the easiest solution. We assure you, returning to drugs or alcohol is not the easiest way to deal with it. Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques is a good way to overcome these difficult mental and emotional challenges.
2. Old friends and past hangouts associated with your drug or alcohol use: People who you used to use drugs or alcohol with are one of the strongest relapse triggers for a lot of people in recovery. The same goes for places, events or situations where you used to use. Your brain will actively remember the sights, sounds and feelings associated with your past use.
For instance, going to a bar or night club you used to get hammered at is not a good idea, if you’re truly serious about your recovery. The same goes for people too. If you hang out with someone who is still actively using the substance you were addicted to, you might end up justifying using again. Just one last drink, for old times sake. Yeah, we’ve all heard that one before and we promise you, that it’s never a good idea.
If you encounter a situation or person that reminds you of your past, this is a good time to practice your inner mindfulness. Mentally-monitor your thoughts and emotions connected to your past and be aware that stepping away from those feelings will help you in making the right choices.
3. Celebrations, holidays or sentimental dates on your calendar: Times of celebration and joy can often be the most difficult for recovering addicts and alcoholics to successfully navigate. This is true whether the date has significant positive, or negative memories associated with it. It could be as simple as your birthday, or the date you lost a loved one. Our brains have powerful emotional attachments to times of the year, specific dates and holiday memories. Just as powerful as our memories of these times can be, so can be the desire or urge to use again.
For celebratory events or dates that you know will be difficult for you emotionally, it is a good idea to have a friend, your partner, or a 12 step program sponsor on speed-dial. Letting someone know that you’re in recovery and you might be tempted in a certain situation can be valuable to help you avoid a relapse. Make sure they are someone you can trust to have your best interests in mind.
4. Becoming bored with life: This is a common relapse trigger that is talked about often in recovery circles. In fact, boredom is one of the most common complaints of those who are new to sobriety. Restlessness, apathy, feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, these are all signs of boredom that typically coincide within the early stages of sobriety. This isn’t necessarily boredom per se, but rather an unknowingness of how to live sober.
Making necessary changes in sobriety is not easy, but it is entirely possible to live life without drugs or alcohol. Again, be mindful of your thoughts. Know that boredom will not hurt you, but returning to drug or alcohol abuse will certainly harm you in the long run. Start exercising, or find a new hobby. Just remember that you’re just learning how to live a life of sobriety. Everything is going to be new so you might as well try some new things. Making healthy choices is a wonderful place to start.
5. Underlying mental health issues: An undiagnosed or untreated mental health problem can be extremely detrimental to your recovery. Many people who become addicted to drugs or alcohol do so because they are attempting to self-medicate their feelings and problems that are associated with and underlying mental health issue. In addiction treatment programs, we call this a dual-diagnosis.
Co-occurring mental health issues are very common for people with a substance use disorder. Just like many mental health issues, addictions can arise out of some unresolved trauma from earlier on in life. It is important to talk to someone about your mental health, especially during the early stages of your recovery. Many times a patient doesn’t even realize they have a problem with their mental health until they stop using alcohol or drugs. Keep connected with someone who is close to you and has your best interests at heart.
6. Overconfidence in your recovery: While it is extremely important to exercise positive thinking and believe in yourself, it is equally important to be honest with yourself about your individual strengths and weaknesses. Becoming cocky, or ego-driven has ultimately been the downfall of far too many people in recovery. Addiction is a powerful disease and it should be given the caution that it deserves.
Whether or not you’re in a 12 step program, the old adage: “one day at a time” is important advice to follow. While many people don’t like the part where you have to admit you are powerless over your addiction, it is important to remain humble and expect that you might succumb to temptation at some point along your path to recovery. If yourself or a loved is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please don’t hesitate to call us. We are available 24/7, 365 days a year to help you.