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5 Common Relapse Triggers and How to Avoid Them After Rehab

The initial stages of addiction recovery can be extremely challenging for anyone. Without the controlled environment of rehab, you are exposed to several triggers of addiction that can cause relapse.

Although it’s impossible to hide from your relapse triggers forever, there are many actions you can take to set yourself free from them. 

External vs. Internal Relapse Triggers 

Relapse triggers can be classified into two categories:

  • External Relapse Triggers: These are environmental triggers, such as people, places, or objects, that recovering addicts associate with their past life. Careless exposure to external stimuli can compromise sobriety and pave the way for addiction relapse. Taking a proactive approach to deliberately limit or totally avoid exposure and learning healthy coping strategies to strengthen you against your personal triggers are essential in every relapse prevention plan.
  • Internal Relapse Triggers: On the other hand, internal triggers refer to thoughts, feelings, and emotions linked to substance use. Internal relapse triggers may include a wide array of emotions that range from negative, positive, or normal everyday feelings. It can be fear, anxiety, insecurity, heartache, loneliness, boredom, thrill, arousal, confidence, pressure, shame, and guilt of addiction

It’s crucial for people in recovery to be vigilant about their emotional health. Take a step back and self-reflect whenever necessary on how you are feeling every day, and be conscious of your internal triggers. Don’t think twice to seek help if you think that something is off.

Common Triggers of Addiction 

Below we list five specific triggers of addiction and what you can do to avoid them in order to stay sober after rehab.

1. Proximity to Substance-Using People 

Frequent or unexpected encounters with friends or family members who are casually drinking alcohol or using drugs for pleasure are high-risk relapse triggers. These may include something as innocent as being invited to hang out at a bar for happy hour with colleagues after work or as significant as seeing your former dealer. Even if they do not offer a hit or sip, individuals struggling with addiction can create a connection and remember their past life just by experiencing these encounters. These interactions can set off cravings, glamourize substance use, or give the recovering addict an impression that they can do it without getting dangerously addicted again.

To stay on the safe side, it’s better to avoid these relapse triggers altogether, especially in the early stages of addiction recovery. It’s a smart strategy to have a ready response to decline or politely excuse yourself from meeting these people. Mentally preparing for these situations can lower your chances of relapsing, however, if you did see anyone or find yourself in a vulnerable state afterwards, don’t hesitate to reach out to your therapist or addiction counsellor.

 Couple in a fight  

2. Difficult Relationships

Toxic relationships are relapse triggers waiting to happen. They come with extreme emotional stress, which has long been established as one of the leading causes of addiction. A study published in the Current Psychiatry Reports suggests that there’s an increased “wanting” for addictive substances or activity in times of stressful situations, particularly if it has become your primary coping mechanism. The stress trigger can come from a rocky marriage, messy divorce, abusive relationship, terrible boss, peer pressure, or family conflict

Ideally, the best course of action to minimize your stress triggers is maintaining healthy boundaries or walking away from these kinds of relationships. However, practicing positive ways to overcome stress relapse triggers can also make a big difference. Work with your therapist or addiction counsellor and incorporate cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, or meditative exercises into your relapse prevention plan.

3. Joyous Occasions 

Recovering addicts may feel slightly tense when taking part in celebrations or social gatherings where temptations like alcoholic drinks may be served. The holiday season can be particularly treacherous because it’s easy to get in a festive mood where you’re more inclined to get carried away, cut some slack, and drink the night away while partying with friends. The flip side to that is if you find yourself alone and feeling sorry for yourself, you may end up opening a bottle of wine in order to numb the isolation. 

Although these are possible scenarios, they are not a given. Attending a party doesn’t mean you’ll automatically relapse. There’s a fine balance between enjoying yourself and knowing when you’re at risk. Here are some tips that can help you handle this relapse trigger:

  • Be selective about parties and events that you attend. 
  • Family and friends usually show support by throwing sober parties with alcohol-free drinks. 
  • Always bring a partner or a friend when going out. They can act as your go-to support and help you exit whenever you feel like things are getting too much to handle. 
  • Bring your own drink if you’re attending an event. It’s a cool strategy to ward off awkward questions about why you’re not drinking or keep people from offering you one.

A man celebrates his birthday while sober

4. Isolation 

Cutting out toxic people from your life to avoid stress triggers has valuable benefits. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should live a hermetic life all on your own. This can be dangerous because it could lead to boredom or leave you alone with your thoughts, paving the way for a mental relapse. Life in recovery requires that you keep your body, mind, and soul active to strengthen yourself against personal relapse triggers. 

Here are some ideas to keep you feeling productive:

  • Declutter: The mere act of decluttering is linked to reducing stress and anxiety. The series of quick decisions involved in selecting which items to keep, donate, or throw out can have the power to recharge you emotionally and boost your self-confidence.
  • Focus on personal fitness: Combined with other continuing care treatments, exercise, such as regular swimming, shows promising benefits in addiction recovery.
  • Create better connections: Participate in a group counselling session or attend addiction support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. You’ll make connections with other individuals who understand your journey and will want to help you overcome your relapse triggers. 

5. Co-Occurring Mental Disorders

Due to their complex nature, mental illnesses render many recovering addicts emotionally unstable—mainly if they are undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or left untreated—ultimately making them more susceptible to other relapse triggers. This includes:

A  co-occurring disorder treatment that simultaneously addresses the addiction and the concurrent mental health disorder is highly recommended. A holistic approach, combining psychiatric and addiction treatment strategies, can effectively reduce relapse rates and promote long-term sobriety.

Freedom From Addiction’s Continuing Care Program 

At Freedom From Addiction, we empower our patients to manage their relapse triggers by providing a wide range of evidence-based therapies. To get to the root cause of their addiction and teach them positive habits and coping strategies, we offer:

If you or a loved one needs additional support in overcoming relapse triggers, let Freedom From Addiction help you. We have a highly qualified team of addiction counsellors, therapists, and healthcare professionals to assist you in dealing with relapse risks and other related concerns.

Contact us today! A member of our team will get back to you shortly. 

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