After someone goes through treatment, the challenges of addiction are still evident throughout recovery. Treatment doesn’t erase all desires to use. Instead, treatment equips addicts with tools for coping with their disease, including managing relapse triggers. Since addiction impacts both the addict and loved ones, family members and friends can be just as much a part of the recovery process by creating moments and environments that encourage the addict’s sobriety. Consider the following ways you can support your loved one by managing relapse triggers.
Relapse triggers and thought stoppers
As we’ve discussed in past articles, relapse triggers are points of vulnerability that increase the likelihood of someone drinking or using. Triggers can be internal or external. Internal triggers are typically sensed through feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, or depression. External triggers are often risky places that bring up memories of substance-related behavior. Whether these triggers surface suddenly or get worse over time, they create an impulse to fall back into prior habits.
When we work with people in treatment, we help them develop coping skills to manage relapse triggers. While avoiding risky settings is helpful for managing external triggers, we also encourage addicts to use thought stoppers to manage internal triggers. Thought stoppers are practices that are designed to interrupt negative thinking and help someone gain control of their mindset. Examples include wearing a rubber band or having some other visible reminder, like a pleasant photograph, to stop and reset. Implementing thought stoppers in everyday life can help addicts take ownership of their thoughts and move to a clearer state of mind, replacing negativity with positive thinking. Loved ones can support this process by making themselves available for conversation and encouragement in those vulnerable moments, helping the addict refocus their attention on something positive and edifying.
Recognizing warning signs
Once you know what the triggers are, you can be a more helpful partner and observer by watching for signs of potential relapse. As a loved one, you may have a better view into how someone is feeling through their actions, attitudes, and other behaviors. Do they seem frustrated or discouraged? Are they stressed or especially anxious? Are they acting easily irritated or upset? Or are they avoiding you or others in your family?
Each of these scenarios may mean the addict is struggling to resist the desire to use. While relapse can happen, you can still take steps to intervene when you see relapse symptoms. Addicts who are struggling with relapse symptoms need encouragement and connection with others. By recognizing these and other warning signs, you can help identify the situation and offer support in areas of need.
Creating safe spaces
In order for an addict to be successful in recovery, their environment needs to be conducive to a sober lifestyle. Consider the symbols and objects around your home that may be relapse triggers:
- Do you have alcohol in your home? If you must have alcohol on hand, does it need to be exposed?
- Is your medicine cabinet readily accessible? Can you take measures to safely secure any bottles or loose items?
- Did the addict usually drink or use within your home? Did it happen most often in a specific room? Are there options for rearranging the space to make it feel new again?
Sometimes an external trigger can even be a certain corner or piece of furniture that brings up dark memories. While moving homes or an expensive remodel may not be practical for your family, think about how you can bring light to your home and adjust your environment to assist the addict in getting a fresh start.
Another way you can serve as a support system is by accompanying the addict to a support group, such as Alcoholic Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous groups. Making a habit of attending support groups will open opportunities for the addict to identify and relate to people in similar circumstances, countering those relapse triggers with more human connections.
Are you looking for more information about relapsing? Learn the top four factors that contribute to relapse.