Addiction is a chronic disease, meaning that recovery is not a destination or point in time but, instead, is an ongoing process. Similar to other chronic illnesses, setbacks and relapse are unfortunately common, especially if you stray from your treatment plan or, more often, encounter a trigger.
A trigger can reignite your cravings for your drug of choice. Understanding your triggers and learning how to avoid and manage them can help you on your recovery journey.
A relapse trigger does not always come from negative or dangerous circumstances. Celebratory times, such as parties or holidays, can come with a minefield of temptations. It is extremely common to serve alcohol at celebrations in the US. While this may contribute to a good time for most, it may be troubling to you. The sounds, smells, and general atmosphere of a party can trigger memories of when you were in active addiction, and cravings can quickly follow.
If close friends or family are hosting the party, one option is to speak to them and ask if alcohol will even be at the event. Most people close to you will understand that you’re in recovery and be willing to make accommodations for you to be comfortable in attendance. They may decide to remove any alcoholic beverages and recreational drugs or ensure that these substances are not left in the open and served to the other guests in closed containers.
Suppose the hosts are unwilling to make any accommodations. If you do not feel comfortable attending a party where drugs or alcohol will be present, you probably should avoid it altogether. Your recovery is ultimately your responsibility and exposing yourself to a known trigger isn’t worth the risk. You must draw healthy boundaries and make decisions that help you maintain sobriety.
Will you have to avoid these types of celebrations forever? Likely no. Your recovery support system can help you develop tactics to manage triggers, making them less as you grow stronger in your recovery.
Just like a festive, lively atmosphere can serve as a relapse trigger, the opposite environment can also be risky.
When you are bored, you will often try to improve the situation by doing something you associate with happiness or fun. In your active addiction, there were likely times that drug use did equal “a good time” or the cure for boredom and that memory and the craving may be triggered when you are bored. Boredom also allows your mind to wander, sometimes leading to depressive thoughts about your situation.
A strong support group of trusted friends, family members, and a sponsor is essential. They can help you build a plan to cope with boredom. It may be getting you out of the house and into nature, which is proven to be a boost to mental health. They provide the community that prevents you from being bored while alone. It’s also great to find a hobby, passion, or a safe activity you enjoy that keeps you focused and happy. Avoiding boredom as much as possible will help keep negative thoughts and cravings at bay.
Many experts consider stress the most common relapse trigger because it can come from so many different avenues of life. Difficulty in a relationship, a work environment that doesn’t suit you, traffic, social media, or even worrying about the future can lead to stress and the potential for relapse.
The key to preventing a stress relapse trigger is to be proactive. You need to document the sources of your stress and find ways to avoid or safely manage them. Finding a new job may be the best action if your job gives you a constant strain that is unmanageable. Tension with a partner or friends may be resolved by talking with them. If not, it may be necessary to end or take a break from the relationship.
This may seem like an odd relapse trigger, but nostalgia is powerful. You may remember the parties you went to and friends you made during your active addiction with fondness — a time before you knew the pain and suffering the disease had caused. You may also be nostalgic for simple things that take you back to when you were using. A specific sound, sight, or smell could be a trigger that resurfaces cravings for your drug of choice.
While in recovery, you may think about the past or go to places you went during your addiction. These things can often bring cravings. You need to feel comfortable and safe in your recovery, so try to avoid those places and thoughts as much as possible. Discuss your thoughts and cravings with a supportive friend, counselor, or sponsor. They can help give you a proper perspective and remind you of why you chose recovery.
HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) is an excellent tool to maintain your life in recovery. It is an acronym that reminds you to take a moment and ask yourself whether or not you are feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Day-to-day life can be stressful, and easily fixable issues can push you to relapse.
Hunger does not only refer to your need for food. It is about your hunger for physical and emotional needs. Eating well gives your body the nutrition it needs to allow you to operate at your highest potential. It is also the desire for affection, friendship, and understanding. To deal with hunger, do not gravitate toward self-destructive habits or people that are negative.
We all feel anger, and it is normal and even healthy to feel anger. With HALT, you take the time to understand why you are angry, what is causing it, and how to express it properly. Anger can cause things to spiral and get out of control when not handled correctly. If someone is bothering you, calmly talk to them and resolve the situation. Distracting yourself through meditation, creative projects, and exercise are excellent ways to sidetrack the spiraling of anger.
Loneliness is a terrible thing, and it can happen in a crowd or an empty room. You withdraw when you feel people don’t understand you or your situation. If you feel lonely, use HALT to ask yourself if you have reached out to speak to anyone. Go to a meeting, call a close friend, or visit family. Sometimes that can be the easiest way to deal with it. Go for a walk, enjoy a coffee at a local shop, or run errands to get out in the world.
Tiredness has a negative impact on your body, mind, and spirit. When you are always on the go, you will become tired. When that happens, your energy declines, making you more susceptible to relapse triggers. Remember HALT, and take the time to satisfy your need for sleep and rest. A good night’s sleep is an excellent way to reinvigorate yourself. You can also go for a nice walk, take deep breaths or listen to some music—anything to slow down and recover from a busy time in your life.
If you do slip or relapse, you are not a failure. It is tough to get through some triggers, and most people experience a relapse as part of their recovery journey. Be proud of yourself for beginning the journey to conquer your addiction. Even if you relapse, you can still try again.