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Understanding Relapse Triggers In Recovery

Relapsing in addiction recovery usually starts with a relapse trigger, which is something that elicits an intense feeling for using the substance they were addicted to

What Does it Mean to Relapse from Addiction Recovery?

A relapse in addiction recovery is when someone starts using either the same drug/alcohol they were originally addicted to or a different substance after a period of sobriety.

A relapse in addiction recovery is not a failure. It is simply a step off the path of recovery. The recovering addict just needs to step back on the path to get clean again and strengthen their sobriety. 

Understanding Relapse Triggers

Triggers in addiction recovery are when a person, place, or thing reminds the recovering addict of using. It then turns into a feeling, which can quickly become an action. Encountering triggers can make continued recovery difficult. It is helpful to understand how to identify triggers so staying on the path to recovery is easier. 

There are several triggers that would instigate a relapse, but they are broken down into just two categories. Internal triggers are thoughts, and emotions, both positive and negative. External triggers are usually talked about in recovery as people, places, and things. 

Internal Relapse Triggers

We know that everyone has an internal dialogue. Sometimes that is thoughts of kindness towards themselves. Sometimes it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum, with self hating feelings. 

There are a few common positive emotional triggers we can explore:

  • Confidence-Someone can be so confident in their ability to stay clean, they stop working their program.  
  • Happiness/Joy– While not seeming like a trigger, happiness could trigger someone to feel like they are not worthy of such a feeling, which can lead them to use so they get back to their comfortable state.
  • Sexual Arousal/Passion– Strong emotions like passion or arousal change the hormonal balance in the brain, which could lead to uncomfortableness. The first thing a lot of recovering addicts want to do when they are uncomfortable is to use so they numb the undesirable feeling.
  • Excitement– Much like arousal, excitement is a very strong emotion that can cloud the brain and enhance feelings of chaos. Chaos feels like home to a lot of recovering addicts. 

Some examples of negative emotions common to relapsing addicts:

  • Anger: Unmanaged anger can be one of the most detrimental emotions to experience while in addiction recovery. It allows someone to feel completely out of control, which could easily leave someone wanting to use. 
  • Jealousy: Sometimes it could be jealousy around someone they are in a romantic relationship with. Other times it could be more like the envy of something or a situation they would like to have. 
  • Shame/Guilt: Addicts tend to have an enormous amount of shameful feelings. These feelings can be regarding their past experiences or even their current thoughts.
  • Depression/Anxiety: Untreated depression and/or anxiety are triggering because it is a state of unbalanced emotions. 
  • Exhaustion: Lack of sleep can lead to self-neglect, which can cause someone to be more vulnerable to relapse. 

External Relapse Triggers

External triggers are those that are around us. They are the people, places, and things that could remind someone of their time of active addiction. 

Some examples of external triggers:

  • People: A person, or group of people someone spent time with during their days of using. It could be their old dealer, the bartender from their old favorite bar, or even just a checkout person at the grocery store where they used to buy wine. People are a huge trigger that is hard to control because we never know where we might run into someone. 
  • Places: Places are a little easier to control, because most of the time, we can choose where we go. But in those circumstances when it is beyond someone’s control, it can cause triggering feelings.
  • Objects: Objects are difficult because they could be anything and someone might not know it’s a trigger until they see it. It could be powdered sugar that reminds them of cocaine, or an empty prescription bottle in a friend’s trash can. 

Whether the triggers are internal or external, knowing what they are could be the difference in whether someone relapses or not. It is important to continue a program, be accountable to loved ones, and practice a lot of self-care. 

What Happens After a Relapse?

A relapse can be devastating to a recovering addict, and their loved ones. But knowing that it’s not the end of the road, just a bump in it is the key to getting back to a healthy recovery. In fact, about 40%-60% of people in recovery relapse at some point in their recovery journey. 

The internal triggers of shame/guilt can turn the relapse into a long-term situation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting past those feelings, and admitting the relapse happened is the very first step in receiving help. 

What to do Next?

After admitting the relapse to their accountability partners, getting help is the next step. It can be scary to make that move, but it is also the best chance of long-lasting recovery. 

Calling Long Island Rehabs is the easiest way to plan out the next steps. We offer comprehensive addiction care. If you or someone you love is looking for more information, please contact us!