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5 Common Relapse Triggers and How to Overcome Them

By Linda Whiteside

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

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relapse symptoms

Recovery from addiction can be challenging as the potential for relapse always exists. Recognizing some of the common relapse triggers and knowing how to deal with them in an important aspect of sustainable recovery and maintaining long-term sobriety.

Living a life free of substances after years of abuse requires major life adjustments. Because of that fact, there will be significant obstacles that must be overcome. If you are in early recovery, you may feel at times that you are in over your head. While those feelings are normal, it is important to understand that you must have a solid plan in place to minimize the risks of giving into temptation.

The following article outlines five common addiction relapse triggers to sustainable recovery and ways you can overcome those obstacles. By keeping these simple yet effective tips in mind, you can minimize the risk of relapse.

5 Common Relapse Triggers and How to Deal with Them

Relapse Trigger #1: Stress!

One of the most common relapse triggers, no matter who you are, stress is an everyday occurrence. Whether it is related to finances, work, relationships or the family, stress can take a toll on mind, body, and soul. For those in recovery, daily stress can make them extremely vulnerable to thoughts of using substances, cravings and ultimately using substances if left unchecked. Stress can exist in many forms and being able to recognize when you’re pushing too hard and putting undue amounts of stress on yourself is an important aspect of maintaining sobriety and long-term recovery.  

Those early in recovery are especially prone to feeling overwhelmed by stress. There can be a tendency to try and make up for lost time and getting caught up in the urge to try and do too much too soon can do more harm than good. Setting realistic goals and timelines is important to managing stress levels which in turn helps to avoid relapse.

To combat stress, it is important to have things in your “recovery toolkit” to help. Engaging in some sort of meditative practice can be of great benefit. It can be as simple as a daily 10-minute meditation breathing exercise or something more rigorous such as yoga can provide an effective stress management tool. Additionally, regular daily exercise can also help reduce stress and increase feel-good endorphins which elevate mood states and make a stressful situation more manageable. 

Part of the recovery process is developing better coping skills and working on eliminating negative thought patterns and beliefs that can make an already stressful world that much more difficult to manage. Working with an experienced therapist can aid in helping to develop better coping skills and learning to reshape destructive behavioral patterns

Relapse Trigger #2: Friends Who Use Substances

A considerable roadblock to long-term recovery are those friends who still use drugs and alcohol. Being around those who are still active in substance use is one of the most common relapse triggers. While you may feel that you can still be “friends”, friends that are still using can be one of the greatest influencers in relapse. 

Those old friends may be seemingly happy on the surface that you are in recovery but would happier to see the “old you” that they can use and have fun with. One of the most important factors in recovery is choosing the right people to surround yourself with. Finding people to spend time with who help support your recovery and make you a better you is critical to your recovery.

In order to safeguard your recovery, it is important to cut your ties with those old friends. Remove their numbers from your cell phones. Replace those friends with a support system consisting of people who truly care about the real you and your well-being.

Relapse Trigger #3: Boredom

It is often said that idle time is the devil’s playground, and it is especially true in recovery. Sustained feelings of boredom and loneliness can cause your mind to fixate on negative thoughts and the urge to use. When feelings of boredom and loneliness linger, it can become increasingly difficult to resist the urge to use making relapse a much bigger threat to your sobriety. While benign at first, those thoughts can morph to thoughts of using drugs and alcohol in order to create stimulation and escape from boredom and negativity.

Once you start feeling bored, call your sponsor or a trusted person in your support system. Having someone you know and trust to talk to can help break the monotony. It is also important to distract yourself. Go for a walk, ride your bike, engage in a hobby that you like or go to a meeting. Keeping a daily calendar that is full of healthy activities helps relieve feelings of being bored and alone.

Relapse Trigger #4: Having Substances in the Home

Another huge danger to relapse is having substances in the home. In recovery, it is obviously important to clear out alcohol from the refrigerator or bar and rid your house of any drugs and related paraphernalia. However, it is also important to look in your medicine cabinet. While you may not have been addicted to prescription drugs, the addicted brain works in mysterious ways.

To be safe, get rid of all substances and related items out of your house. If you share a residence with others and they are not supportive of your decision, you may have to think about moving. While it may be a drastic step, your sobriety takes priority.

Relapse Trigger #5: Special Occasions

Holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years Day and birthdays are special occasions full of friends, family, and high spirits – making these occasions the perfect environment for common relapse triggers. Along with food and good company, alcohol (and other substances) are often intertwined with those special occasions. For those who are in recovery, these special times can be a slippery slope. While there is nothing wrong with celebrating the moment, indulging in drugs and/or alcohol will lead you back into active use.

It is important to plan ahead in regards to special occasions. Bring your own non-alcoholic drink. If you are at a party with an open bar, ask the bartender to make a non-alcoholic drink. In those situations, it is always important to get your own drinks and not have a friend or someone else get a drink for you. You can also throw your own non-alcohol party and have games, movies or a great home cooked meal.

The Biggest Obstacle to Recovery? Getting Help

In addition to being aware of the common relapse triggers mentioned above, the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem and seeking professional help. If you or a loved one needs help to overcome a substance abuse problem, NuView Integrative Recovery Center can help. Our outpatient and sober living programs utilize the best traditional and holistic therapies that can be structured to meet your specific needs. Give NuView a call right now and get on the path to recovery.

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Author

Written By: Linda Whiteside
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Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson
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Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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