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How to Manage & Identify Addiction Relapse Triggers

The road to recovery can be a long, winding road. In recovery, we learn all about addiction relapse triggers and a few coping mechanisms that can help us prevent these episodes. However, we all know that addiction is a complex issue. Cravings and relapse triggers can come from unexpected places, situations, and circumstances. Let’s learn a bit more about these triggers and how we can manage them outside addiction treatment. 

Identifying Internal vs. External Triggers

Let’s start with the basics. When it comes to addiction triggers, we can divide them into internal and external factors. The first ones are things such as feelings, stress, self-worth, self-doubt, and other emotional elements. On the other hand, external relapse triggers can be individuals, places, situations, or objects that bring you back to your addiction days. 

Noticing the difference between these two types of relapse triggers is vital for knowing which managing technique to use. 

Generally, a trigger can be anything that brings back emotions, thoughts, feelings, and memories that have to do with addiction. For addicts, these can vary greatly. Something as simple as hearing a song that was listened to while drinking or passing a liquor store. These examples can evoke a response that brings about a desire to use again.

Addiction relapse triggers can be arbitrary, though generally correlated in some form to previous drug use. Combatting triggers starts with self-awareness and self-empowerment.

Common Relapse Triggers

Relapse triggers can take on many shapes and feelings. We have emotional, mental, environmental triggers that we can easily notice. However, there are some triggers that we often overlook because most people don’t make the connection between them. 

The most common triggers include:

  • HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)
  • Positive and negative emotions
  • Stress and stressful situations
  • Over-confidence
  • Mental health or physical illness
  • Social isolation
  • Sex and relationships
  • Getting a promotion or a new job
  • Reminiscing or glamorizing past drug use
  • Social situations or places where drugs are available

Other things that can trigger a relapse include exhaustion, boredom, frustration, unreasonable expectations, depression, impatience, and peer pressure. It’s also common to experience one or more of these triggers at a time. Thus, identifying and managing these triggers can be quite tricky.

Avoiding vs. Managing Triggers

Most people in recovery are advised to avoid relapse triggers no matter what. However, when it comes to emotional or personal triggers such as stress, depression, and over-confidence, these triggers can be difficult to avoid as they appear out of nowhere. 

Triggers that someone could avoid include things like situations where they know they’ll be likely to relapse, such as bars or places where drugs are available. Other avoidable triggers include people, for example, talking to their former dealer or abusive partner. Some places, such as the neighborhood they used to buy drugs, the liquor store they frequented, and so on. These are all avoidable triggers that must be identified and remember to prevent relapse. 

Additionally, aftercare is essential because you may not be able to recognize these triggers until you go back out into the world and experience them. Therapy, as a part of aftercare, creates an opportunity to address these triggers even after the completion of a substance abuse program.

Overcoming Triggers

Because most of the time, triggers seem to appear out of nowhere, a better option is to learn how to manage triggers. Combatting triggers starts with self-awareness and self-empowerment. Thus, an addict must change their mindset from feeling like a victim to understanding that they are brave for choosing to better themselves through addiction treatment.

Once a person decides to identify their relapse triggers, they need to start monitoring their emotions. When an urge is present, the addict should stop and recognize their emotional state.

Was the urge triggered by anger, a memory, or a kind of fear? Relapse triggers might be challenging to recognize, particularly early in recovery. To begin, start paying close attention to the level of current cravings. Then, as the levels of the cravings change, take a record of the people, places, feelings, and things associated with the variation.

Our top suggestions for reducing cravings and relapse triggers are exercising and engaging in hobbies you enjoy. Also, practicing meditation and keeping a cravings journal or a diary. Finally, focusing on the positive aspects of life can help shift your mindset.

What Happens If I Relapse?

Even when you have a concrete plan to identify and manage your relapse triggers, the risk is always there. Unfortunately, anywhere between 40 to 60 percent of recovering addicts relapse one year after completing treatment. These relapse episodes don’t indicate failure, nor do they mean you’re doomed to addiction forever. 

Relapses are relatively common, and how you manage them is paramount for your long-term recovery. 

If you struggle with relapse, it might be beneficial for you to attend an aftercare recovery program. Or, check with your former therapist to see if you might need a more extended addiction program to feel more stable and ready to face relapse triggers around you. 

Don’t feel as if relapse is a death sentence. While it might feel overwhelmingly like a defeat, it’s not impossible to overcome a relapse. After all, remember all the progress you’ve made so far. 

The Importance of Aftercare Help

When it comes to aftercare programs, we believe they’re critical for trigger management and relapse prevention. Remember, inpatient and outpatient programs focus largely on addressing the underlying cause of addiction. While in most treatment programs, you do learn relapse prevention techniques, we all know the addiction doesn’t end once you leave rehab. 

Aftercare programs can cover things like:

  • Individual and group therapy sessions
  • 12-step group meetings and other support groups
  • Therapy with family members to promote healing
  • Training and life skills development courses
  • Relapse prevention technique classes
  • Medication-assisted therapy

In addition, they might show you different alternative therapies that can help manage these triggers. Activities like breathing exercises that allow a person to clear their mind of thoughts and refocus their awareness can be powerful prevention tools. 

The inclusion of holistic therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, journaling, meditation, and others can help recovering addicts focus on their well-being. These practices can be beneficial for managing emotional triggers. 

Seeking Help for Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorders, seek help today. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our substance abuse treatment programs incorporate relapse prevention techniques throughout the program, helping those in recovery built a strong support system that can help them win the battle against drug addiction.

In addition, our aftercare recovery programs offer ongoing support to those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. We know how difficult addiction relapse can be for those in recovery, which is why we provide continuing support to those in early recovery, helping them improve their daily routines and help them find the best ways to avoid relapse long-term. 

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