Identifying Relapse Triggers

How to Identify Relapse Triggers

In early recovery it's important to identify relapse triggers. A trigger is an event or series of events that potentially causes you to drink, overeat or engage in addictive behavior. 

You may not be aware of your triggers until you have a slip or relapse. What most people don't realize is that a relapse starts weeks or even months before actual use. Yep, it's true keep reading!

A relapse trigger can be a specific event, such as a relationship problem, a loss, or change that throws you off balance. Or, it can be a series of stressors that trigger overwhelm and an inability to cope. When using, you don't feel but in sobriety feelings come back with a vengeance.  You aren't used to feeling them so it 's really uncomfortable.

In early recovery your first reaction is to ignore feelings hoping they go away. Be careful! Any form of denial is a relapse warning sign.

That's why learning how to handle stress and emotions are vital in early recovery. You must learn to face what's happening so those feelings don't get buried under a mountain of denial.

Managing stress is being able to identify feelings in the moment. Lots of feelings tend to surface when newly sober. Sadness, unresolved grief, and anger are common ones the addict avoids. Learning to feel your feelings is a vital part of recovery

Here are some common situations that can trigger the desire to use again.  

Common Triggers

  • Socializing with people who still drink and use
  • Getting into an argument with a friend or spouse
  • Getting negative feedback at work or home
  • Feeling too Hungry, Anger, Lonely or Tired (HALT)
  • Experiencing a major stressor or sudden change
  • Any significant loss such as unemployment, a break up or death
  • An unsafe or unsupported living environment
  • Physical illness of self or family members
  • Feeling depressed or worthless about life
  • Past traumas that are coming up
  • Ignoring emotions and hoping they'll just go away

How to Handle Relapse Triggers

Learning to handle life without using is a big task in early recovery. That's why going to 90 meetings in 90 days is a popular suggestion. You need that continuous support to stay sober. Plus you'll want to be closely connected when triggers happen so you can reason things out with other members.

 12 Step Recovery and Relapse Help

12 Step Recovery and Relapse Help

Attending meetings regularly helps you feel a part of the group. It provides a safe place to go when uncomfortable feelings surface.

Practice expressing feelings so they don't get shoved aside. Stuffing feelings is a major relapse warning sign that leads to using. 

Build Your Tribe

12 step programs are successful because they provide immediate support. Members sponsor because their own sobriety depends on it. You can't keep it unless you give it away.

Regular contact with a sponsor can minimize relapse as long as your honest about what's happening. They can walk you through whatever you're struggling with without judgment.

Here're some tools to use when you're struggling.

 Tools to Help

  • Write your concerns in a journal.
  • Go to a meeting.
  • Call your sponsor or trusted friend.
  • If there is a problem, don't avoid it. Ask for help.
  • Pray or meditate.
  • Get additional support if needed.
  • Make sure you have time to relax and have fun.
  • Learn strategies like mediation/mindfulness to handle stress.
  • Get vigorous exercise to improve mood.
  • Develop better self care by getting plenty of sleep and eating healthy. 
  • Use the slogans such as One day at a time, or This too shall pass to get through the tough times

Everyone feels tempted to use but if you stick close to the program you'll learn how to face the pain and move on. If the pain is too much, please consider seeking professional help. There are counselors like myself who can support you. 

Recovery is about learning live one day at a time without substances. It takes time to change old habits but these tips with keep you focused on the solution. Sober life is a perfect life but it's a more manageable one.


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You may not aware of your triggers until you have a slip or relapse. What most people don't realize is that a relapse starts weeks or even months before actual use. Really, click to keep reading!