What Might Trigger A Relapse?

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Although drug or alcohol addiction can be managed with treatment, it is a chronic condition. Many people in recovery relapse at least once, but knowing what triggers a relapse can help stop one before it starts.

What Might Trigger A Relapse?

Finding drug or alcohol treatment is a big step in the recovery process, and it’s often a challenging but rewarding experience.

However, many people find that it can be easier to stay sober in a structured rehab center. After leaving, they may face old situations, places, or people that remind them of their substance use.

It takes time to learn how to face and overcome these triggers, and it’s not uncommon for people to relapse during recovery.

Fortunately, there are ways that people with a substance use disorder (SUD) can mitigate cravings and potential triggers to achieve lasting sobriety.

What Are Addiction Triggers?

Addiction triggers happen anytime someone experiences a situation that makes them want to try alcohol or drug use again. There are different types of triggers that can cause someone to relapse.

SUDs are chronic illnesses. This means that even after a period of successful recovery, a person with an SUD may relapse.

In fact, between 40% and 60% of people with an SUD will relapse at least once after treatment. However, relapse does not mean that they have failed in their addiction recovery.

After a relapse, it’s crucial to re-evaluate the treatment plan and consider other options that may prevent more relapses in the future.

Stages Of Relapse

Relapsing doesn’t usually happen in an instant. It’s a longer process, with three main stages: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse.

During emotional relapse, people may start experiencing stressors and neglect their treatment. They may start isolating from others and stop taking care of themselves like they were before.

In the mental relapse stage, people begin considering trying drugs or alcohol again. They may start justifying it to themselves or make a plan for how to acquire substances.

The physical relapse stage is when the person uses drugs or alcohol again. This can be a temporary lapse of just one-time use or a full-blown relapse, a return to use at levels prior to treatment.

Common Substance Abuse Relapse Triggers

No two people experience addiction the same way, so people in recovery will each face their own unique triggers and cravings.

While attending a drug rehab program, clients identify their triggers so they aren’t caught off-guard after leaving care.

Although triggers can be individualized, there are some fairly common relapse triggers among people in recovery.

HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)

The HALT acronym is taught to people in recovery to help them learn to take care of their essential needs.

Experiencing the HALT factors can cause elevated stress, which is particularly difficult for people new to sobriety. Practicing self-care and healthy habits is vital during this time.

Stress And Anxiety

In addition to unmet basic needs, there are countless other common causes of stress that may lead to substance use as a way to cope, including relationship, school, or job difficulties.

Stress is one of the top addiction relapse triggers, but working with a therapist or counselor can help people learn to identify and handle stress in more mindful ways.

Holidays And Celebrations

Alcohol use is pervasive around the holidays, and it can be a challenge to turn down opportunities to partake in drinking when friends and family members are drinking.

People can get swept up in overconfidence or positive emotions surrounding these events. They may think they can handle one glass of champagne, which can lead to a complete relapse during the holiday season.

Having a sober buddy, attending support group meetings, planning sober activities, and putting a plan in place to avoid temptations can help people navigate the holidays successfully.

Challenging Emotions

Negative emotions like anxiety, guilt, depression, and anger are common triggers for many people.

Drug or alcohol use may provide temporary relief from these mental states, but they do not address the root causes of them or teach people how to manage them in healthy ways.

Trying mindfulness practices like journaling or meditation can help people work through these negative feelings until they pass.


Once someone stops using substances, they may forget some of the difficulties associated with addiction and romanticize the “fun times” they experienced in the past.

People reminiscing about prior substance use are displaying warning signs and are at a high risk of relapse. They should consult with their treatment providers as soon as possible.

Returning To Situations Of Prior Substance Use

Certain living conditions, social settings, or relationships where substance use was prevalent can influence someone to return to old habits.

During early recovery, it is sometimes necessary to make drastic changes to your living situation or social circle to prevent external triggers like being around people who use drugs or alcohol.

Sober living housing can be a great resource for people who have finished a program at an addiction treatment center but need continued support in recovery.

Physical Or Mental Pain

Chronic physical and mental health disorders often have painful, debilitating symptoms to manage, and people may turn to substances as a coping mechanism.

While drug or alcohol use may provide temporary relief, they often worsen these problems in the long run and create many new issues to deal with.

Working with a healthcare provider to find non-addictive pain management methods and treatment for physical or mental illnesses is the way to go.

Making A Relapse Prevention Plan

When people participate in a treatment program, they’ll work with therapists and clinicians to develop a relapse prevention plan.

These plans will vary widely from person to person, but they’ll focus on identifying each client’s unique external and internal triggers and coming up with healthy responses to them.

Relapse prevention includes building a strong support system, learning proper self-care habits, committing to outpatient treatment, and tackling the root causes of drug or alcohol addiction.

It’s vital to remember that relapse is not a sign of personal or moral failure. By recommitting to treatment as soon as possible, you or your loved one can still achieve long-term recovery.

Get Help For A Substance Use Disorder

If you or someone you love is facing drug addiction or alcohol dependency, don’t wait to find help. To learn more about starting the recovery journey, reach out to us today.


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