Relapse Triggers in Early Recovery

Safeguarding yourself from a relapse into addiction

In the early stages of recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, or other types of addiction, certain factors can “trigger” the recovering addict into thinking in a way that could lead to relapse behaviour. 

These factors will have varying degrees of similarity and diversity from one addict to the next, depending on the particular person and the addiction that they are battling.

Typical triggers

A time of day when the recovering addict would typically have their first cocktail or begin their drinking behaviour if the alcoholic had established a consistent pattern. These are examples of situations or things that could potentially trigger a relapse to the use or abuse of alcohol. 

Other situations that could trigger a relapse include certain people, places, or situations. Another option could be seeing a commercial for a particular favourite brand of wine, beer, or alcohol broadcast on television. This response could also be triggered by scenes of drinking behaviours depicted in movies or on television, as well as by certain things that were crucial in the drinking history of someone, such as a favourite martini glass or shot glass. 

Other things that can be triggers for recovering addicts include the smell of a favourite beverage, driving by a bar or liquor store that they frequented back when they were drinking, or even just thinking about drinking again. 

Even something as simple as going through the same neighbourhood or along the same street might bring up memories that are unsettling and challenging to suppress.

For recovering addicts who have used or abused drugs in the past, it may be just as easy to be triggered by events or by seeing particular objects that are reminders of the old methods and behaviours. For example, this may be anything like an old needle or syringe. It might be a lighter used for smoking marijuana or a match that smells like rotten eggs because it was used by an addict who “cooked” their narcotics with partners before injecting them with a needle. Both of these scenarios are possible. 

It is possible for the sounds of particular kinds of music to work as a trigger, as are many different types of sensory cues that people are not aware of until they come into contact with them in a new setting and feel the tug of the old days drawing them back into the addictive behaviour.

Learning relapse prevention

In therapy for addiction, one of the most crucial aspects is learning how to avoid relapsing. 

Addicts and alcoholics are left unprepared to face and work through their triggers without relapsing into behaviours or even ways of thinking that will keep them from successful sobriety if they do not have an open awareness of what some of their triggers may be. 

The same brain regions that will play a significant role in the patient’s recovery are also the brain sections that are being bombarded with an overwhelming amount of this kind of sensory stimulus. 

One of the most critical factors determining whether someone is successful in their recovery is whether or not they can identify and implement backup plans for challenging times. These are situations when they are confronted by sights, smells, and sounds from their past that were appealing to them during their active addiction. 

Addicts in recovery need a safety net to recognise potential triggers and then disengage from the situation to prevent them from giving in to the temptations that will inevitably arise when those triggers are experienced. A good relapse prevention plan is effective.

Fellowship helps

Connections with other recovering people can be invaluable in these kinds of circumstances. Participation in 12 Steps meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous is of great help. This is because these people will be able to tell the newly sober addict how they dealt with and triumphed over similar challenges, and they will validate the emotions that surface during this time. Realising that they are not the only ones battling the temptations posed by those triggers provides them with a more powerful tool to resist giving in to them. 

One of the most common errors that newly sober alcoholics make is believing that the information they have learned about their addiction is sufficient to prevent them from falling back into old habits. This is not true at all. 

Keeping in touch with their therapist is also beneficial in challenging times, especially in early recovery when they are more vulnerable to emotional triggers.

Every addict, regardless of whether or not they are aware of their addiction, is subject to a significant pull from their triggers whenever those triggers are satisfied and faced unawares. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call Freephone 0800 140 4044

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