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Addiction Relapse: Separating Fact From Fiction

Recovery from addiction is often a challenging journey. It’s common for someone overcoming an addiction to make mistakes and begin using again. This is known as a relapse.  

Some people view relapsing as having failed in the recovery process, but this simply is not true. Relapses are common. In fact, the relapse rate for substance abuse disorder is 40-60%, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse. However, while it can be common, relapse also poses a serious danger, particularly in overdosing.

This is why it’s vital to identify relapse triggers and ways to prevent them. Let’s start by looking at some common triggers.

Common Substance Abuse Triggers

There are three main types of relapse triggers: Environmental, Stress, and Re-exposure.

Environmental Triggers

Environmental triggers are also known as “external” triggers because they consist of people, places, or activities which can be associated with past substance use.

These triggers may include:

  • Former drug dealers
  • Bars and clubs
  • Former drug stash locations
  • Parties
  • Seeing drug or alcohol use in media
  • Drug or alcohol related imagery
  • A former friend or co-worker

In essence, any person, place, object, or image a recovering user may associate with past drug use can be a possible relapse trigger.

Stress Triggers

Stress triggers may also be referred to as “internal” triggers and involve thoughts, feelings, and emotions – particularly feelings of anger, fear, or anxiety.

Common stress triggers include:

  • Feeling criticized or inadequate
  • Ending a relationship
  • Financial strain
  • Family problems
  • Loneliness and depression

In general, stress increases vulnerability to other triggers which can further increase the risk of relapse.

Re-exposure Triggers

Re-exposure triggers are similar to environmental triggers, in that they occur when someone in recovery is exposed to or is in close proximity of drug use.

This might include:

  • Sights, smells, or sounds
  • Being with certain people in certain locations
  • Witnessing drug abuse

These are only a few common examples of triggers. Any of them can reinstate drug-seeking behavior in a recovering user and be the cause of a relapse.

How to Avoid Relapse Triggers

Avoiding and managing triggers can be challenging. There are times when certain triggers are out of your control. However, there are several helpful prevention strategies you can use, and, in the event you’re faced with potential triggers, measures you can take to cope with them.

Trigger Prevention

Several prevention strategies include:

  • Make a list of people and places that can act as a reminder to past drug use.
  • Avoid substance users, particularly from your list.
  • Stay away from any abusive substances, even if it isn’t one you have previously used.
  • Take classes or work with a therapist to help manage anger, depression, and anxiety.

Preventative measures are one of the most important ways to minimize the effects of relapse triggers.

Coping with Triggers

It’s not always possible to avoid triggers. In the event you’re faced with a potential trigger, you can take several actions:

  • Engage in a distracting activity – This might include writing, playing an instrument, or drawing. Anything that doesn’t remind you of past drug use and can help you refocus.
  • Reach out to someone – You can talk with a sponsor if you’re part of a 12-step program or simply talk with a supportive family member or friend.
  • Be physically active – Jogging, yoga, or any other form of exercise that you enjoy can help vent negative emotions or distract you from a trigger you may be facing.

Finding Treatment If You’ve Relapsed

If you have relapsed, this does not mean you’ve failed or have to start completely over. It’s important to remain positive and to consider seeking treatment – especially if this isn’t your first relapse.

Many forms of treatment exist that help in your recovery and minimize your risk of relapse, including sober living programs. In addition to sober living, Real Recovery can help you or your loved one through any of our treatment programs. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions or to request more information.