More than 20 million Americans are battling drug or alcohol addiction. With prohibitive costs of professional rehabilitation and a lack of health insurance coverage, many face an uphill battle to recovery from the beginning.
Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain. It is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics.
Of those who attempt to get clean from addiction, the average relapse rate is around 60% (and much higher for opioids). Relapse refers to returning to substance use after abstaining for a period of time. Oftentimes, a relapse trigger is partially to blame.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common addiction relapse triggers, as well as how to overcome them. Recovery starts with arming yourself with the right knowledge, tools, and resources.
Recreational Use to Drug Abuse
Addiction can easily sneak up on you. What started out as casual weekend fun, or pills prescribed by a doctor for your aching back, can quickly spiral out of control.
That’s because of our brain chemistry. Drugs affect dopamine and serotonin levels, which are responsible for feelings of pleasure. The more a person consumes, the more they need to feel its pleasurable effects.
Over time, the ability to get ‘high’ diminishes and drug or alcohol use is necessary to just feel normal.
What is a Relapse Trigger?
A trigger is an emotional, social, or environmental situation that brings up memories of the past. When referring to a relapse trigger, the memories are of past drug or alcohol use.
The longer someone was or is in an addiction, the more that associations with substance use become ingrained in their daily routines. This results in more triggers, which can cue strong cravings and subsequently result in relapse.
Let’s discuss 7 of the most common relapse triggers.
There is a long list of reasons why people feel guilt in recovery. Some examples include:
- Past words and actions while under the influence of substances
- Stigma associated with addiction
- Financial consequences of their addiction
- Time/years of life wasted in addiction
- Damage to health
- Damage to relationships with friends and family
- Failure to live up to expectations
Thoughts such as these are overwhelming and can lead to relapse as a coping mechanism. Guilt leads to mental discomfort, which is one of the primary reasons why people turn to alcohol or drugs in the first place.
2. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired
HALT is a frequently used acronym in addiction recovery. These four basic human needs reduce functioning capabilities if not fulfilled. This leads to a high-risk situation for those who are vulnerable to relapse.
Becoming mindful of one’s emotions is the first line of defense. Be sure to eat properly and get enough sleep. Anger and loneliness require more external resources; don’t be afraid to reach out for support.
Stress has profound physical and mental impacts on all of us. Add addiction to the equation and it is a recipe for relapse.
Stress is a broad term that applies to a vast range of circumstances. Unfortunately, many of its sources, such as the loss of a loved one or your car breaking down, are impossible to avoid. Proper coping strategies are key.
4. Illness or Injury
Mental illness frequently exists alongside addiction, referred to as comorbidity. Professional counseling and sometimes medication (of the non-addictive variety) are necessary to properly diagnose and treat mental illness.
Aside from pain associated with physical injury, it also disrupts routine. All of a sudden, you can’t go out for your morning run or alleviate some stress with a dip in the ocean. An unexpected limitation on mobility results in boredom, anger, and frustration. All of these emotions are relapse triggers.
5. New Romantic Relationships
Dating is extremely risky in early recovery. The emotional rollercoaster of a new relationship can make it hard to avoid a relapse. If the relationship doesn’t work out, the mental anguish of a breakup is even more overwhelming.
The other issue with dating is the actual dates, which are often in settings that involve alcohol.
6. Places and People From the Past
Nostalgia is a strong emotion. Seeing an old friend who you formerly used with or driving through a neighborhood where you used to score frequently triggers a craving that leaves you vulnerable to relapse.
A good starting point is to make a list of people, places, and things that are personal relapse triggers. Then, make an active effort to avoid them.
This usually occurs once someone has remained clean and sober for a period of time. As emotions settle and life gets back on track, it is easy to become complacent. Perhaps you feel you can go hang out with some old friends or are capable of having ‘just one’ at the next social event.
Letting your guard down puts you at a heightened risk for relapse. Stay humble.
There is no such thing as a perfect environment. While relapse triggers can’t be entirely avoided, there are strategies for stopping a relapse that you can implement to increase the chances of staying on track.
Try a few simple lifestyle changes, such as establishing a daily routine, following a healthy diet, regular exercise, and ensuring adequate sleep.
It has been said that addiction is a full-time job. Finding and using drugs and alcohol, as well as finding money to acquire drugs and alcohol, takes up a lot of time. It is necessary to find a new purpose in life and establish goals in recovery.
Sources of fun will also need redefining. For many people, addiction began out of boredom or to increase enjoyment in various social situations (parties, concerts, etc.).
If a relapse does occur, don’t get too discouraged – it is completely normal. The most important thing is to reach out to your support team and get back on track as quickly as possible. Use setbacks as a learning experience.
Recovery Is a Journey, Not a Destination
We hope we’ve provided you with some helpful insight into the world of addiction and one of the biggest challenges faced in recovery: the relapse trigger. It is important to remember that addiction is a disease. Although it can’t simply be ‘cured’, it can be managed and overcome.
Whether it is yourself or a loved one struggling with addiction, it is important to learn to identify specific relapse triggers. More awareness leads to more success in the recovery journey.
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