Common Relapse Triggers and How to Avoid Them


Carissa Wilcox on July 19, 2022 at 6:33 AM

Author: Stella Gibbons

Common Relapse Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Unfortunately, over 85% of recovering individuals tend to relapse within the first year after receiving proper treatment. Yes, the numbers aren’t great, but there’s a silver lining: at least you’re aware of them. How does that make it better, you may ask? While a relapse should never be regarded as a failure, simply by acknowledging the high risk for relapse, you can take preventive measures and make sure you aren’t caught off guard. Understanding your strongest triggers and having a plan in place can significantly lower your risk for relapse. Here are some of the most common relapse triggers to consider and a tip or two on how to avoid them.

1. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

Starting with the most common causes of relapse, HALT stands for "Hungry," "Angry," "Lonely," and "Tired." Being some of our most basic human needs, they describe high-risk situations for those in recovery, especially if they've been handled with alcohol or drug abuse in the past. If you start experiencing a powerful urge to use, this is your chance to practice positive coping mechanisms. So, stop for a second, and think HALT. It may be that you're hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. 

Eat healthily and regularly, get enough sleep, and do things you enjoy.

It helps to create a routine, get plenty of sleep, plan your meals, and even carry a healthy snack when you’re away from home. Making time for things you enjoy, perhaps focusing on a hobby or going out for coffee with a friend, is also a good idea. So, do your best to set aside time for that.

2. People, places, and things

The people, places, and things one experiences daily play a huge part in encouraging or discouraging substance use. Everything you were around that time can be a potential trigger, from family members, partners, and co-workers to ATMs, the house you live in, and a particular music genre. The human brain forms an association between daily routines and drug experiences. And since it's wired to seek rewarding activities, it wants to hit the repeat button.

That's why people, places, activities, and objects you'd experienced during active addiction can elicit thoughts associated with it and intense cravings. Your brain wants to find that potent, rewarding sensation we call the "high" once again.

For this reason, it's crucial to identify these triggers and make some changes. Luckily, unlike internal triggers, these allow you to have a little more control over them. You can cut off certain people, avoid certain places, and take other intentional steps to limit your exposure to triggers. But, rehabilitation professionals at say it's much more important to be aware of these triggers. That way, they won't catch you off guard.

3. Celebratory events

Talking about people and places. Unfortunately, positive situations and times of celebration are one of the most common relapse triggers. And that’s particularly true when they include temptations like alcohol. You may feel happy, confident, and in control. You may be thinking: what’s the harm in having just this one glass, one smoke, or indulging in just a little bit of innocent flirtation with an attractive stranger. 

Even fun events and happy occasions can be high-risk situations when you're in recovery.

But can you be sure that you have it all under control? It could shock you how quickly your grit and good intentions dwindle once the party starts and when you're enjoying yourself. 

While you can always do your best to stay away from some social gatherings and celebrations, you probably cannot avoid all of them. So, it would be best if you had someone, your partner, a trusted friend, or a cousin, who has your back. They’ll help you keep things under control. Second, you might also want to sit with your sponsor, counselor, or therapist. Discuss and devise a plan to best handle the temptations that come with these kinds of events, especially during the holiday season

4. Social isolation 

As we’ve said, you probably cannot avoid all social gatherings. And, truth to be told, you shouldn’t. Still, many people struggle with forming a support system and engaging socially as, sometimes, it can be exhausting for them. Some even try to avoid it altogether. 

Social anxiety is quite common for people in recovery. But the thing is – we tend to be our worst enemies. And when our minds wander to negative thoughts, it takes a toll on our mental health, and it can be hard to stay motivated and shun the guilt and shame that substance abuse is commonly associated with. Not to mention that it can be incredibly lonely.

That’s why it’s best to have someone to turn to, a trusted friend or a sponsor. Also, keep in touch with your loved ones, and don’t miss groups – you need your support system.

5. Relationship difficulties are one of the common relapse triggers

Addictive behavior impacts all aspects of our lives, including relationships. Addiction can be devastating to our marriages, friendships, working partnerships, or familial relationships. From that point on, it can pretty much become a self-feeding loop. Relationships suffer, which further affects the person battling with addiction, making them more vulnerable to relapse, relationships suffer again, and so on.  

Relationships will suffer. But it's never too late to mend them.

The point is to break this cycle and start the path toward rebuilding trust and healing.

  • Start by taking the initiative and reaching out to people you want to reconnect with, take responsibility, and be honest and direct about what you want.
  • Second, don’t beat yourself up over past events – you cannot go back and change them; you can only move forward from this point.
  • Third, keep attending the meetings/counseling sessions – your nearest and dearest need to see you "walking the walk."
  • Finally, be patient. These things take time - they cannot be resolved overnight. That’s why it’s essential to set realistic expectations.

A word from Live Rite Blog

Nobody said the path to addiction recovery is easy. Complex relationships, negative emotions, temptations - it doesn't seem so anyway, does it? However, it can get easier knowing what common relapse triggers are, getting help from a counselor, having a plan for healthy coping, and building a support network. It can keep you on the path to long-term recovery. The important thing is to stay strong, motivated, and patient and do everything you can to protect yourself. Remembering that relapse isn't a sign that your recovery failed is equally important. You can always get back on track. So, don’t beat yourself up if you do slip. Just don’t stop trying.

Author: Stella Gibbons


Dave Thomas

Informative post. I really appreciate the effort you made to share the knowledge.

699 days ago