One of the most helpful tools for staying sober is to recognize and manage the triggers that lead to relapse. Relapse triggers are defined as points of vulnerability that increase the likelihood of engaging in substance-related behavior. Triggers create environments where people are tempted or subjected to go back to using, and those triggers can be experienced both internally and externally.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 40-60% of people relapse during addiction recovery. That statistic might sound disheartening, but chance of relapse statistically decreases with years of sobriety. You can anticipate your first year sober to be especially challenging, but you can also prepare yourself for those challenges by being cautious of the situations you enter. Urges to relapse are commonly experienced, but most relapse triggers are predictable. If you’re going through addiction recovery, set a plan in place to handle the following relapse triggers.
Internal triggers: Managing your emotions
Internal triggers are typically related to stress or anxiety. When a recovering addict is struggling with fear, frustration, or depression, that person is in a vulnerable state to slip back into substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Negative internal states are the top reason why addicts relapse, and unmanaged emotions pose a huge barrier to staying sober. Set strategies for dealing with those emotions.
If you’re battling fear or depression, stay engaged with people who are a positive influence. Loved ones can play a strong role in helping an addict identify and manage emotions to prevent falling back into bad habits. Counseling, support groups, and accountability partners can all help you feel supported in seasons when you feel discouraged or alone. If you let your depression sink you deeper into isolation, you will be more likely to relapse.
External triggers: Avoiding risky settings
External triggers are sensed from one’s physical surroundings. Recovering addicts put themselves at high risk of relapse when they walk into situations where they are exposed to harmful substances. That can include spending time with peers who still use drugs or in places that trigger painful memories. External triggers can also come from compulsive behaviors, such as shopping, gambling, or watching graphic material. Engaging in these behaviors can distort your perception and inhibit you from making healthy decisions.
If you’re a recovering addict, avoid settings like bars or parties where you know those substances will be present. Even if you suspect you are strong enough to make smart choices, don’t walk into that environment to test yourself. The key to coping with external triggers is to steer clear of environments that may tempt you to use again. Most high-risk situations are choice-driven. While you might feel badly skipping an event or party, the value of that event isn’t worth the regret of relapsing.
External triggers aren’t limited to out-of-home. Perhaps your own home is where you were using the most. Consider changing your living situation or even rearranging your home to intentionally create a new, safer space.
Successful recovery: Creating a better life
If you’re struggling in recovery, keep this in mind: You don’t recover from addiction just by cutting off using drugs. You recover by creating a new life where it’s easier to not use. For more information on triggers, see our recent infographic on the factors related to relapse.