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Understanding Relapse: Common Triggers in Recovery

Aug 2020 Understanding Relapse: Common Triggers in Recovery

One of the most sensitive subjects among those in recovery is the subject of relapse. It holds with it feelings of failure and wasted effort. It comes with expressions of shame and embarrassment. However, during the journey of addiction, rehabilitation, and recovery, relapse forever remains a possibility. 

This is sometimes despite best efforts.

What is Substance Abuse Relapse?

Relapse is when a former substance user falls back into dangerous emotional patterns and chooses to abuse substances once again. When the temptation to resume using drugs or alcohol is no longer resisted, relapse is probable. 

Even just thinking about it can develop into behaviors and negative emotions. If not managed properly, this will inevitably lead back down the dark road of substance use. Relapse can happen at any time. It can even occur after an extended period of recovery.

Acknowledging Relapse is Possible

Relapse is always going to be a threat. This is why classes and therapy are so important during rehab. Knowing what triggers relapse in recovery, can work as an opposing force. 

Awareness is half the battle, and self-control is the other. However, very few people in any situation are able to manage self-control properly. Whether they are an addict or not. 

The important thing to remember is that relapse is not the end of the journey. It isn’t necessarily failure either. Think of it more like a bump in the road. It means that more work needs to be done in order to work toward a healthy and sober life. 

The best news is, there is still hope. Recovery is still possible, and you are still worthy of it. 

The Multiple Stages of Relapse

There are three different ways in which relapse can occur; emotional, mental, and physical relapse. It is not always just going back to the same old habits. 

Often relapse doesn’t include the same substance that one had originally sought treatment for. Someone who originally received treatment for heroin may now be facing an addiction to opiate painkillers or alcohol. 

Contrary to popular belief, relapse isn’t always just considered the physical act of abusing drugs or alcohol. It typically starts well before those actions are even taken. Relapse is commonly misunderstood. 

Addiction recovery is a tricky lifestyle to maneuver. It takes patience and forgiveness. Understanding the stages of relapse will add awareness, potentially preventing a life-threatening situation. 

The stages of relapse include three different areas of addiction. Moments of weakness in any of these areas are considered relapsing, and further treatment or therapy should be sought. 

Emotional Relapse

Oftentimes this step involves shame and embarrassment of either a past relapse or thoughts of a potential upcoming relapse. When a person in recovery has developed an unhealthy relationship with triggers, they have already stumbled into the first step.

While in this stage, many are in denial of their feelings toward their relapse triggers. However, what’s unique about emotional relapse is that there is usually no desire to return to using drugs or alcohol. It is simply the development of negative emotions that have the potential to snowball back into substance abuse. 

Recovery consists of having as much control over the mind and its emotions, as of the body. 

Mental Relapse

This step combines knowing that potential relapse triggers are weighing down, but have not yet physically given into using. At this point, a recovering addict may opt for a different substance, and assume that it doesn’t count. 

This stage also may consist of allowing themselves to believe that substance abuse in moderation means they still have control. Whether or not they have physically given into triggers, mentally, relapse has already occurred. 

Unfortunately, because of the potential to develop another addiction, this may lead to starting the treatment process over again. 

During this stage, it’s important that individuals keep their minds busy with positive influences. This could be anything that will drive away thoughts of alcohol or drug abuse. 

Physical Relapse

When a person relapses physically, this refers to the actual act of seeking out and abusing drugs or alcohol. Typically, this is how it’s generally defined. That said, it is a very important behavior to try and avoid. But it is not the only factor that is considered when professionals evaluate an addict. 

To determine whether further intervention is needed, relapse triggers need to be discussed at length during assessment and therapy. Specifically, it’s important to discuss what happens when exposed to them. 

In the case of physical relapse triggers, it is important to be open and honest with rehab therapists. This is the only way you will be able to get back to working on your recovery journey, moving forward. 

There is a very fine line between each stage of relapse. One can lead to another very quickly. Be sure to seek out professional rehab treatment if you feel as though you are dangerously close to giving into relapse triggers. 

Factors that Can Trigger Relapse in Recovery

Learning about your triggers in recovery will be a very hot topic while getting treatment. There is so much hard work that is done on oneself, in order to be able to avoid outside relapse triggers. 

After detox, you will work with rehab professionals daily and begin to develop your relapse prevention plan. Within this plan, you will need to make yourself familiar with any relapse triggers that can affect your sobriety. 

The fact of the matter is, many do not take this as seriously as they should. So many things can trigger a relapse, and many of them seem very insignificant at that time. Unless you make yourself aware beforehand and develop a plan, you may end up being at high risk for relapse. 

High-Risk Relapse Triggers That Can Affect Anyone

While it may be difficult to imagine, especially fresh out of rehab, relapse can happen to anyone. Regardless of how long or dedicated to leading a sober life, one may be, no one is perfect. 

Because of the large significance placed on the word “relapse,” people often overlook the little details. These little relapse triggers can actually have a big impact.   

Triggers in recovery can be very small and can be experienced daily. More than just once a day even. They can be brought on quickly and leave little time to react. While in rehab, especially in residential treatment programs, some relapse triggers are managed for you.

 It won’t be until you are out on your own before you face other common triggers in recovery. For some, it may even be years before the first time. 

Relapse, triggers, and recovery, just like addiction and rehabilitation, are unique to each individual. However, having experience in the world of addiction treatment, rehab specialists have surely seen a thing or two. Because of this, they are able to prepare you for some of the high-risk situations you may find yourself in. More importantly, how to address them. 

What is H.A.L.T.?

H.A.L.T., which stands for hungry, tired, angry, and lonely, incorporates the top 4 relapse triggers experienced daily. As innocent as these things can seem, they are capable of triggering even the most dedicated recovering addict. Do yourself a favor, have a plan, follow a schedule, be prepared.

Getting yourself on a regular schedule to follow daily will help to avoid relapse triggers. Partial care programs are especially effective when it comes to this area. 

During this specialized treatment, which is a hybrid between inpatient and outpatient care, your schedule will be important to maintain. Scheduling and routine for things such as H.A.L.T. will help to avoid the added irritation these relapse triggers can cause. 

Inability to Deal with Emotions

Having emotion is a normal and healthy part of being alive. By feeling and showing emotion, we are reinforcing our ability to remain present. Having an emotional response to the people and things around us is not necessarily a relapse trigger. 

However, when those feelings are negative or inspire an unhealthy reaction, they become a hazardous trigger in recovery. 

That’s not to say that you should avoid having feelings altogether. In fact, that would be even more unhealthy. Simply make an effort to discuss when and how you may be triggered in recovery. 

During individual therapy, you will be allowed a safe and respectful space to explore how emotions play a part. Utilize the time you have with your therapist to become aware and learn new ways to cope with difficult emotions. While it may be impossible to avoid this trigger in recovery, better coping mechanisms will make it easier. 

Stress: The Number One Reason for Relapse 

No matter who you are or where you are from, at some point you will experience stress. Realistically, almost everything in a person’s life carries stress along with it in one way or another. Sometimes, stress can trigger relapse very unexpectedly. Or, it can build up over a significant amount of time. 

Either way, it is important to be proactive and discover healthy outlets to manage these periods of unrest. Rehab programs designed for specific age groups often provide recovering addicts with new ideas for stress-induced relapse triggers. 

Others have found that integrating stress-relieving practices, such as going to the gym or meditation and yoga, provides relief. 

Regardless of which method suits you, letting stress linger or takeover is the most common trigger for relapse in recovery. Get out ahead of it and make new and rewarding habits.  

Overconfidence and Cause for Celebration

When overcoming the initial temptation of addiction sets in, many become confident in their ability to avoid triggers in relapse. There is a difference, however, between having confidence and becoming overconfident. After all, the hard work put into detox, therapy, and sober living arrangements, being proud of your accomplishment is normal. Upon getting a new job, a raise, or a new position, it is common to want to celebrate. 

And while self-praise is highly encouraged after each important milestone, when taken too far, this overconfidence can trigger a relapse. Addicts in recovery sometimes feel as though they have come far enough to abandon the lessons that got them there. Before long, the sober habits that they have worked to maintain slip away. 

There is the idea that they have enough control to use again “one more time,” and the consequences are costly. Know that overconfidence is a sneaky trigger in relapse. Stay out ahead of it and look forward to celebrating the next sober milestone, far away from relapse triggers. 

Mental or Physical Illness

During therapy in rehab, one of the requirements to rule out is an underlying psychological illness. Mental illness, especially when they are present at the same time as an ongoing addiction, are relapse triggers in themselves. 

Dual diagnosis is when a person is diagnosed with a psychological illness and also suffers from addiction. Therapists at rehab are trained to identify signs of mental illness. Proper diagnosis can reduce the risk of triggering relapse in the future. 

Sex and Relationships 

Discussing the relapse trigger of sex and relationships can be a very touchy subject. While group therapy has many benefits during rehab, intimate relationships are discouraged. This is not to suggest that being sober means staying single forever either. 

However, there is a strong correlation between drug and alcohol addiction and the feelings of infatuation involved in romantic relationships. Addiction and love actually affect the brain in a very similar manner. 

Chemicals in the brain that are activated when romance is afoot, activate the same sensation as feeding an addiction would. The problem is not that love can make you feel good. The relapse trigger comes in when there is often an attempt to substitute one for another. 

After some time, and recovery experience, getting back into the dating scene may be an option. By living a sober lifestyle, and avoiding relapse triggers, a relationship with the right person could be something to work toward. 

Social Isolation and Internal Triggers

Substance abuse and fear of relapse can leave a person feeling alone and full of shame. Unfortunately, because of this, some addicts in recovery begin to spend more and more time alone. Many are under the impression that avoiding people and places will help avoid relapse triggers. This is simply not true. 

Though it may take time, avoiding triggers in recovery can be done without separating yourself from the rest of the world. By putting in the time and effort into rehab treatment, you will soon develop new thoughts and behaviors. This can be both a positive and negative thing. 

It is important to avoid internal triggers that can lead to distancing yourself from family/friends that care for you. There needs to be a healthy and stable balance between negative relapse triggers and positive external support. This may require a bit of trial and error. However, maintaining a healthy and sober social life will contribute to overall success and happiness in the long run. 

Recalling the False Satisfaction of Substance Abuse

The illness of addiction can cause our minds to believe that when intoxicated, there was truly a sense of happiness. Addiction once provided a false sense of security and satisfaction that addicts in recovery will refer back to at some point.

Throughout your rehab and recovery process, there will come a time where memories can be considered triggers. Addiction is a disease. It changes the way a person relates to substance abuse. 

It may seem as though life was easier at that time, and maybe it was. But it is important to remember why you are on this journey, to begin with. Make it a point to remind yourself how valuable and lifesaving your sobriety is to you and those you love. 

Keep Your Focus on Recovery

When exposed to relapse triggers, the mind tends to quickly weigh options and can threaten recovery. 

Make yourself a list and read it often. Keep it fresh in your mind, including how far you’ve come and how important it is to continue. 

Intervention is important, and there are people around you who can help. Make a list of those individuals and reach out as necessary. 

Discuss negative or abusive thoughts in therapy and find new ways to work around recalling these triggers in recovery.

Give Yourself Time

After making the decision to take back your life from addiction, you need to allow yourself time to adjust. This might mean steering clear of people, places, and things that made substance abuse available. 

This is not always easy to do. But by taking in the lessons and putting in the time and effort during rehab, it is possible. 

Surround Yourself With Positive People

Developing new and rewarding behaviors, as well as surrounding yourself with likeminded sober peers, will help. Before long, your new habits will be normal, and relapse triggers will soon fade in intensity.

Triggers in recovery will always be unexpected and even unpredictable. Remember to be aware of the dangers they pose to your wellbeing and sobriety as you continue to move forward. 

When Relapse is More than a Threat

Unfortunately, relapse and temptation that comes along with addiction are always going to be there. Even those that have sustained their lives in recovery for many years know this to be true. 

The point is, people, make mistakes. When a person encounters triggers in recovery and finds that they were unable to resist, more work must be done. 

Instead of dwelling on the past, it is now time to pick yourself up and try again. 

Recovery and addiction management is still very possible. Use what you know now, and be sure to focus on the triggers that led to relapsing. This is not the time to give up on yourself or your sobriety. Recovery is still possible; You are still worthy of it. 

Treatment Assistance for Relapse

If you or someone you love is having trouble maintaining their sobriety, it is not too late to get help. Substance abuse left untreated, can lead to horrible consequences and even result in death. Relapse is often part of the process, and there is no shame in admitting that you need more help. 

For preventative measures or rehab after relapse, reach out to a quality substance abuse treatment center in your area. Relapse doesn’t have to mean failure; it can be just another lesson to learn from. Valuable support is available. It is time to leave addiction in the past and get started on rehabilitation and recovery today. Contact us; we can help. 

References: 

https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/what-relapse

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5688890/