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Common Relapse Triggers in Addiction Recovery

By February 3, 2019 June 15th, 2023 No Comments
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The phrase “relapse trigger” can refer to anything that presents a challenge to a person’s recovery and makes them vulnerable to relapse.

This could be a particular scenario or location, a person or group of people, or a mental or physical health issue. Stressful or upsetting situations are often relapse triggers. Complacency in one’s recovery can also be a trigger.

Trying to identify some of your own triggers can be very beneficial, as it allows you to prepare for them and to develop methods for responding to them. The following information will be helpful in doing this. Evidence-based addiction treatment will also help you to identify relapse triggers and methods for coping with them.

Acute Withdrawal

Withdrawal is an intensely difficult process. The physical, psychological and emotional components can be painful and harrowing. During the initial, acute phase, the process can also be very dangerous. This means that acute withdrawal is a very common cause of relapse. Many addicted people return to using simply to cope with their withdrawal symptoms. Once you have made it through acute withdrawal you have taken an important step towards lasting recovery. However, there are many different recovery challenges still to be faced.

Post-Acute Withdrawal

After the acute phase of withdrawal, some of the most severe symptoms will reduce or end. However, there are a range of post-acute withdrawal symptoms. These include mood swings, intense agitation or anxiety, depression and insomnia and intense cravings. If you have previously used drugs or alcohol to cope with stressful or negative emotions, for example, you may find it very difficult to cope without these mechanisms. It can be extremely difficult to regulate thoughts and emotions without the substances or processes that you have come to depend upon. The body and brain will also continue to crave alcohol or substances beyond the initial withdrawal period.

It can be extremely difficult to deal with the challenges of the post-acute withdrawal process and many addicted people relapse during this phase. Symptoms will generally reduce over time, so persevering through this phase is another very important step.

Bad Habits

Developing bad habits around sleeping, eating or exercising can create relapse triggers. If you do not look after yourself physically and mentally, you will be more susceptible to negative thoughts and emotions. You will be more likely to become angry or anxious at home and at work. This can lead to intense cravings to use. You will also be less prepared to cope with relapse triggers if you are not physically and mentally well.


The acronym “HALT” is often referenced in addiction recovery. Standing for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired,” the term describes some of the feelings that can leave you most vulnerable to relapse. It is a useful way to remember the importance of taking care of your mental and physical health in recovery.

Lack of Healthy Coping Mechanisms

If you have previously used an addictive substance or process to cope with challenges, it will be very difficult to face these challenges with healthier methods. For example, if you have previously coped with anxiety or intense emotions by drinking, when you encounter these feelings while in recovery you will face strong urges to drink. In this way, the lack of healthy coping mechanisms often creates relapse triggers.

One important part of recovery is developing new, healthy coping methods. This will be better able to confront relapse triggers. For example, determining that you will not get involved in arguments, but will discuss issues in a calm manner, will help you to avoid triggering situations and will reduce anxiety and tension. Developing a new hobby that you can use to manage stress or other negative emotions is also a really good idea. Many people find that exercising or spending time outdoors helps them to process thoughts and emotions in a healthy way.


Boredom can be a real problem for people in recovery. If you have previously spent much of your time obtaining and using drugs, for example, you may now find yourself struggling to fill the time. Many addicted people also feel bored by ordinary stimuli as they have come to depend on the feelings elicited by their addictive behaviour. The brain becomes trained to demand the chemical surges produced by addictive substances or activities. This means that its other responses will be reduced.

Your social life may also have revolved around drinking or using drugs, leaving you with a lot of time to fill and a lack of stimulating activities to engage in. Identifying alternative ways to fill your time and to engage your mind is an important part of recovery. Some new hobbies could be very beneficial. Trying to spend more time with family members or friends who are supportive of your recovery is also an excellent way to avoid boredom.


An addicted person’s life is often based around obtaining and using the substance or process to which they are addicted. This means that your social circle may be composed primarily of people that you drank or used drugs with. It is important to avoid people and places that are likely to be triggering. However, this can prove to be very isolating, particularly in the early stages of recovery.

Isolation can be depressing and destabilizing in recovery. It can cause depression, loneliness and intense boredom. Resolving to spend more time with people in your life who are supportive of your recovery is a great way of avoiding isolation. In some cases your relationships with these people may have been damaged by your addiction. Focusing on rebuilding relationships in a positive way is a very healthy recovery goal. Finding a new hobby can also provide you with new social contacts.

Relationship Problems

Relationships problems are common relapse triggers. Often, relationships have been badly damaged by addictive behaviour. In the early stages of recovery, you may also have difficulty managing thoughts and emotions. This can complicate relationships. Romantic relationships can be particularly complicated during this phase. It is important to bear this in mind and to manage relationships carefully, as arguments or upsetting interactions can make you more vulnerable to relapse.

Concurrent Disorders

If you are coping with mental health conditions alongside your addiction, these conditions may lead to relapse triggers. If you have previously dealt with the symptoms of anxiety, depression or PTSD by drinking, for example, it will be very difficult to cope with these symptoms without alcohol. As your mental and emotional condition may be complicated early in recovery, this may also lead to stressful or depressing situations, which can cause relapse.

As you progress in your recovery, you will develop new, healthy coping mechanisms. Continuing to take any approved medications or attending therapy or support groups will help you to manage mental health disorders alongside your addictions and prevent their symptoms from triggering relapse.

People, Places or Situations

Most addicted people will have certain people, locations or situations that they associate with their own addictive behaviour. This means that, when in recovery, encountering any of these people, locations or situations can be triggering. It is important to be aware of this so that you will be prepared when you do encounter them. It is also sometimes necessary to remove certain people, places or situations from your life if they jeopardise your recovery.

Environments such as bars or parties, for example, can be very triggering. Peer pressure is also a common relapse trigger; you should cease contact with anyone who pressures you to drink or use despite knowing you are in recovery. Certain activities may also be triggering if you once paired them with drinking or using. For example, if you used to drink while playing video games, gaming might become a trigger for you when you are in recovery. If you notice that certain activities are triggering, you will have to work to change your relationship with them or stop doing them.


Progressing through the early phases of recovery without relapsing is an important achievement. However, it is essential to remember that recovery is a life-long process and requires commitment and effort every day. Often, when someone has been in recovery for some time, they begin to feel confident and secure in their progress. This can be a positive thing, but it is crucial to ensure that this confidence does not become complacency.

Methods for Coping With Relapse Triggers

Have An Ally

Having an ally to support you in your recovery can make a substantial difference to your progress. Someone who understands the process, who you can speak to about concerns or challenges you are facing, can make all the difference. Aftercare programs or meetings are great tools, but a trusted individual that you can communicate honestly with offers another powerful form of support.

If there are events that you feel may be triggering but that you must attend, you can ask this person to join you to offer support. If you are concerned you may relapse, speaking openly about your concerns might help to prevent this relapse. Even if you are feeling positive about your recovery, it can be very beneficial to check in regularly with an ally about your progress.

Other Activities

If you have previously spent much of your time obtaining or using drugs or alcohol, this can add to the challenges of recovery. You may find it difficult to fill your time or to engage with alternative activities. Finding activities that you find fulfilling or entertaining can be very beneficial. A new hobby or social group may allow you to invest your energy in a positive and productive way. It will also prevent you from becoming isolated. Exercise and outdoor activities can be very beneficial to recovery. Spending more time with family or friends who are supportive of your recovery can also be very positive. Any of these activities will also help you to avoid boredom, which can be a relapse trigger.

One Day At a Time

The idea of taking things “one day at a time” is commonly referenced in relation to recovery. It is a very effective strategy. Thinking about never drinking or using again can be overwhelming. Considering all the relapse triggers and difficult situations you may have to face can make you more likely to relapse, as it can seem like too much to confront. However, simply focusing on progressing in your recovery through each day is a manageable, sustainable approach.

Wait It Out

If you do experience a relapse trigger, simply focus on getting through this one situation. Cravings usually only last a short period. Each time you resist an urge to use, you have made real progress.

Concurrent Disorders

If you are coping with a mental health disorder alongside your addiction, it is essential that you manage its symptoms effectively. Addiction and mental health disorders interact with one another. The symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental health conditions can lead to relapse. It is important to be aware of this, to manage symptoms with care and to raise any concerns you have about them in relation to your addiction.

Find Healthy Ways to Celebrate

If you have previously celebrated occasions or achievements by drinking or using, it can be difficult to celebrate when in recovery. Finding alternative ways to mark occasions and achievements allows you to mark them in healthy, progressive ways. Having gatherings that do not involve alcohol or substances with people who are supportive of your recovery is a very positive way to celebrate.

Be Honest About the Past

In recovery, it is important to be honest with yourself and with others about the past. Avoid the temptation to glamourize or romanticize the time when you were drinking or using. If you find yourself doing this, make sure to focus on the consequences of your behaviour. Think about how it made you and those around you feel. Consider the effect on your health, your relationships and your work-life. Putting memories of your past use in context like this will help you to avoid relapse triggers. When you experience cravings to drink or use, you can think ahead to how this will make you feel.

Relapse triggers can emerge suddenly during any phase of recovery. If cravings become less frequent, this can make them more dangerous if you are less prepared to face them. Maintaining your focus on recovery through different phases of the process is extremely important. Continuing to avoid triggering people or scenarios and taking care of your physical and mental health will help to achieve this. Continuing to attend aftercare sessions, group meetings or support groups is also a great way to stay focused on recovery.

It is also important to remember that, if you do experience a relapse, this is not the end of your recovery. Relapse is part of the recovery journey, and when you respond to one in the right way, this moves you closer to lasting recovery. You should view a relapse as a learning experience that will help you towards your ultimate goal. You can also use it as an opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to recovery supports that you have used or to identify new ones. If you have any questions or concerns about relapse, contact Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres today.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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