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 a change that throws you off balance. Or, it can be a series of stressors that create overwhelm and an inability to cope. When using substances, you don't have all of you feelings but in sobriety they come back with a vengeance.  You aren't used to feeling them so it's really uncomfortable.

How Emotions Relate to Relapse

In early recovery, your first reaction might be to ignore feelings hoping that they go away. Be careful! Denying or stuffing your emotions 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 means being able to identify feelings in the moment. Lots of feelings 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

Keeping Close to The Program  

Learning to handle life without using is a huge task in early recovery. it takes courage to face your past and rebuild trust. Often, relationship are in crisis due to the consequences of the disease. That's why going to 90 meetings in 90 days is a popular suggestion. You need that continuous support to stay sober. Plus, staying connected helps 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 and decrease isolation. It's a safe place to go when you're hurting. Untreated depression and isolation are major relapse warning signs that you'll need to watch out for.

Build Your Tribe

When your recovery gets tested - and it will be - 12 step programs provide immediate support. Sponsors walk you through the steps because their own sobriety depends on it. You can't keep it unless you give it away.

Regular contact with a sponsor and other members can minimize relapse as long as your honest about what's happening. You never have to be alone.

Here are some additional tools when you're struggling.

 Tools to Help Minimize Relapse

  • 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 professional support if needed.

  • Give yourself time to relax and have sober fun.

  • Learn strategies like mediation/mindfulness to handle stress.

  • Get vigorous exercise to improve mood.

  • Improve 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 on occasion but if you stick close to the program you'll learn how to face the pain and move on. If the pain gets too intense, 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!