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How to Identify Your Addiction Relapse Triggers

Addiction is a chronic disease that has the potential to re-enter one’s life at any point. Completing an addiction treatment program is a major step towards recovery, but it does not always guarantee lasting sobriety

Relapse is an inevitable part of the addiction recovery process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is bound to happen at least once to over 90% of people recovering from substance abuse.

Recognizing that relapse is normal and nothing to be ashamed of as well as learning to identify potential addiction relapse triggers can empower those striving for recovery to seek help. Likewise, knowing what triggers addiction again can allow friends and family to provide sufficient support to those struggling on their recovery journey.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the true nature of relapse, its different stages and faces, what causes it, and how to overcome addiction relapse triggers.

Keep on reading to learn more!

Understanding Addiction Relapse 

By definition, relapse refers to when a person in recovery starts using drugs or alcohol again. What most people don’t recognize is that relapse has many faces. It’s a process with multiple stages over the course of weeks or sometimes months until an individual returns to their old coping mechanisms.

Depressed woman lying on the couch

3 Stages of Relapse

Addiction researcher Terence T. Gorski first described the three stages of relapse in his book, Staying Sober: A Guide for Relapse Prevention. They include:

1.Emotional Relapse 

In the initial stages of relapse, you may not even be thinking about going back to substance abuse again. Still, you are experiencing a negative wave of emotions that, when left unaddressed, could pave the way for a potential relapse. The tell-tale signs of an emotional relapse closely resemble the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Intense emotions: Having feelings of anxiety, intolerance, anger, defensiveness, and moodiness.
  • Sudden preference for isolation: Emotionally shutting down, refusing to see friends or loved ones, or missing out on scheduled meetings and therapy sessions.
  • Lack of self-care: Not eating proper meals at the right time and the inability to get a good night’s sleep. 

2. Mental Relapse 

Perhaps overwhelmed by unpleasant emotions, the mental stage of relapse is when you start to have an internal struggle and entertain the idea of maybe casually trying drugs or taking a sip of wine. People who are in this particular stage of relapse usually:

  • Miss specific people, places, or things associated with their addiction.
  • Start romanticizing or making sense of their past use.
  • Fantasize about being able to use drugs or drink again.
  • Consider what will happen if they ever did relapse. 

In most cases, once someone gets to mental relapse, it won’t be long before they start to act upon their cravings. 

3. Physical Relapse 

Without adequately addressing the mental relapse stage by speaking with a therapist, a full-on relapse can be expected. In physical relapse, you’ve already made an actual move by hitting the nearest bar, reconnecting with your dealer, or starting to hang out with old friends who are bad influences and see nothing wrong with drinking or using drugs. At this point, it may be a little too late to prevent a relapse from happening. 

Man with head down on the table holding a glass with alcohol 

What Triggers Addiction Again and How to Identify Yours

Addiction is a complex condition that can be triggered or aggravated by several contributing factors. What triggers addiction varies widely from one person to another. Below are some examples of the most common addiction relapse triggers.

Stress Triggers 

Otherwise known as internal triggers, stress involves negative emotions caused by addiction, stigma, insecurity, family conflict, financial strain, turbulent relationships, breakups, loneliness, and depression. The effects of stress triggers become exponentially problematic for individuals diagnosed with a co-occurring mental illness. An addiction treatment facility with co-occurring programming for depression, borderline personality disorder, and other mental health issues can prepare patients for this scenario.

Exposure to People and Places 

Seeing old friends or simply passing by familiar spots (bars, clubs, parties, or a friend’s house) that remind you of your previous life can be a potential trigger for relapse. These could be people who abused drugs or played a role in your addiction, like your dealer or an old partner who encouraged your substance abuse.

It may also involve an unexpected encounter with those who have caused you severe emotional trauma, such as abusers or family members, which ultimately led you to substance abuse. This is why emotional recovery is important. Without it, relapse will always be a possibility. Learning healthy coping mechanisms and techniques to manage emotional stressors, such as practicing mindfulness, exercising, or participating in therapy, can play a pivotal part in preventing relapse. 

Sights, Smells, and Sounds 

A whiff of marijuana or simply watching people drinking at a club or social gathering can remind you of the pleasant sensations that got you addicted to alcohol or drugs in the first place. A study suggests that practicing meditative exercises or reciting affirmations when exposed to triggers can help prevent future relapse. 


Joyous occasions like holidays, birthdays, or concerts where everyone’s in high spirits can be one of the most dangerous addiction relapse triggers. Frequently, a person in recovery might let their guard down by casually accepting an offer for a cocktail and get carried away. Before they know it, they’ve had one too many drinks and are back to square one. To prevent addiction relapse triggers, look for safe and sober spaces where you won’t be pressured or exposed to drugs or alcohol. Having a trusted friend who can tag along with you and look out for you at social events may also help.

Relapse Prevention 

At Freedom From Addiction, we take a proactive approach against relapse. We provide our patients with a Continuing Care Program that provides them with the essential emotional and social support to help them avoid potential addiction relapse triggers and maintain their sobriety while living their life to the fullest.

For more information about how our relapse prevention treatments can help you or a loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. A member of our team will get back to you shortly. Contact us today!


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