Addiction recovery is challenging for many reasons, one of which is the potential for relapse.
The Recovery Village recently surveyed 2,136 American adults who either wanted to stop drinking alcohol or had already tried to (successfully or not). Of those, only 29.4% reported not relapsing at all. The largest group (32.3%) relapsed back to alcohol use within the first year after stopping. With perseverance, your chances of relapsing decrease the longer you stay sober: 21.4% relapsed in their second year in recovery, but only 9.6% relapsed in years three through five, and only 7.2% did so after their fifth year in recovery.
Though it is difficult to predict a specific incident that might trigger a relapse, it is possible to understand common relapse triggers and develop a response plan so that if you experience one, you will not jeopardize your addiction recovery.
Some triggers can be avoided, but others cannot, so it is important to think ahead and have a plan for exactly what you will do if you experience an unavoidable trigger. Here are seven common relapse triggers that can affect your addiction recovery.
1. Times of Celebration
Unfortunately, happy times can lead to relapse, especially when they involve parties and include temptations like alcohol. While you can avoid some celebratory events, you probably cannot avoid all of them, and some will inevitably include alcohol or other temptations. Perhaps your partner or friend at these events can have your back and help you resist if you are inadvertently offered something that could trigger a relapse. Depending on a trusted friend can get you through a tempting situation unscathed.
2. Relationship Difficulties
This may be within your marriage, a friendship, a working partnership, or a familial relationship. Maybe before your addiction recovery, you coped by abusing alcohol or another drug, but now you have to find new ways to navigate these difficult situations. If you have a 12-step sponsor, this can be an excellent time to call him or her, so you will have the right support as you put new practices into place coping with inevitable family conflicts.
3. Professional Success
It can be easy to say to yourself, “If I really was an addict, I would not have received that promotion…or that job offer, or that plum project at work.” Do not let professional success somehow cancel out your acknowledgement of addiction, because addictions happen in people at every level of professional success. Your meetings, your counseling, and your positive coping practices are just as important as ever as you climb the career ladder.
Boredom is quietly dangerous. Many people with eating disorders consume food out of boredom, and boredom can allow your mind to drift to “what if” situations involving alcohol or whatever your drug of choice is. Beware of the danger of boredom, and work with your counselor or another trusted friend to help you build a plan for coping with boredom in healthy ways.
5. Undiagnosed or Untreated Mental Illness
Co-occurring mental illnesses are common in people with substance abuse disorders. In fact, substance abuse may begin as an attempt at self-medication to cope with undiagnosed depression, anxiety, or another mental illness. Fortunately, doctors have many ways to treat mental illnesses that do not involve the use of addictive medications, and relief from mental illness can help you avoid a potential relapse.
6. The End of a Difficult Day
Everyone has had long, difficult days that end with the thought, “Why do I even bother?” This can be a difficult question to ask yourself if you have a substance abuse disorder. Maybe right now you cannot answer the question of why you bother trying, but those answers exist, often in the form of children, a spouse, or a project or cause about which you are passionate. Again, this can be an opportune time to contact your 12-step sponsor.
7. Times When You Need to H.A.L.T.
H.A.L.T. stands for “Hungry,” “Angry,” “Lonely,” “Tired,” and if you are experiencing one of those common emotions, it is an opportunity to practice positive coping mechanisms. Coping in a healthy manner requires that you have a plan in place to address your needs when you cannot directly respond to the particular trigger. For example, if you are tired and cannot rest right away, you may have a plan to take a short break for coffee or meditation and remind yourself that you will eventually have the chance to rest.
Addiction recovery does not take place in a vacuum, but in the midst of complicated relationships, temptations, and sometimes co-occurring mental illnesses. Knowing what your strongest triggers are and having a plan for healthy coping can keep you on the road to long term recovery. Never forget that you can reach out, whether by going to a 12-step meeting, contacting your sponsor, or meeting one of your sober friends. If you have any other questions about addiction recovery, we encourage you to contact us at any time. Help is available whenever you need it.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.