5 Most Common Relapse Triggers: How to Avoid Them

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Addiction and alcoholism recovery is a complex and ongoing battle. Because of the difficulties associated with substance abuse recovery, relapse is common. In fact, it is more common for individuals to experience relapse than not. According to studies, despite FDA-approved treatments for nicotine, alcohol, and opioid addiction, more than two-thirds of individuals will relapse after initiating treatment.

To prevent relapse, individuals recovering from substance abuse must understand their triggers. Understanding what your triggers are and having a plan in place for said triggers is the first step of prevention. Here are 5 of the most common relapse triggers and how you can avoid them.

#1: Stress


Stress is known as the leading cause of relapse concerning drug or alcohol addiction recovery. Unfortunately, stress is common not only among recovering addicts but also among the general population. Also, many individuals who become addicted to substances started abusing the substance to soothe negative feelings like stress. As a result, individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction must learn how to cope with stress in healthy ways.

By making changes in your priorities, lifestyle, and relationships, you may be able to reduce the number of stressful situations in your life. In doing so, individuals reduce the likelihood of stress, causing them to relapse. To manage stress, individuals must learn positive coping mechanisms to replace their drug or alcohol abuse.

Some positive coping mechanisms for stress include:

  • practicing mindfulness and engaging in relaxation training
  • managing your time more effectively to avoid operating in panic mode
  • increasing healthy behaviors by incorporating exercise and healthy eating

To effectively reduce the likeliness of a stress-induced relapse, individuals must utilize healthy coping mechanisms while being able to recognize triggers as they appear. Oftentimes, these coping mechanisms are taught in addiction treatment centers during relapse prevention education.

#2: People and Places

People and Places

One of the leading causes of relapse is recovering addicts or alcoholics being around people or places associated with their past substance abuse. For example, hanging out with friends that you used to use drugs with, or even certain family members can cause recovering addicts to relapse. For this reason, it is not recommended for recovering addicts or alcoholics to surround themselves with potential triggers.

To avoid relapsing, individuals must be prepared with practical ways of handling their feelings. For example, if you must be around people or places that you associate with drug or alcohol abuse, you should have a plan set into place that helps you to overcome any triggers. Also, it is recommended that recovering addicts have additional activities they can partake in rather than hanging out with people, places, or things that trigger them.

#3: Negative or Challenging Emotions

Negative emotions

Negative and challenging emotions are another common relapse trigger. Individuals recovering from substance abuse must find effective ways of tolerating, managing, and making sense of negative emotions they may encounter daily. People recovering from addiction are used to using drugs or alcohol as a method of numbing uncomfortable feelings. Because of this, newly sober people may have a hard time managing negative or challenging emotions. Unfortunately, this causes people to relapse at alarming rates.

To avoid relapse, individuals must become comfortable with experiencing negative emotions. For example, recovering people should understand that experiencing negative emotions does not equate a failure or a setback in their recovery. In fact, the ability to feel all of your feelings healthily should be seen as progress. For example, those who can identify and work through feelings of stress, anger, or sadness, show positive emotional health and growth in sobriety.

#4: Seeing or Sensing the Substance(s) you Abused

substances abused

Reminders of your addiction can trigger relapse during recovery. For example, if a recovering alcoholic smells or sees liquor, they may be reminded of their alcohol abuse, and in turn, triggered. Also, it is essential to note that wanting to use drugs or alcohol during early recovery is usual. After all, you became accustomed to using substances. However, recovery and sobriety are all about being able to recognize these desires, and replacing them with more positive behaviors.

To avoid relapsing as a result of desiring substance abuse, it is crucial to focus on the new life you are building. While there may be times that you begin to romanticize drug or alcohol abuse, it is vital to recognize the positive changes you have made. In doing so, you are less likely to revert to old behaviors (or addictions). With that being said, having healthy coping mechanisms in mind for instances where you begin to feel triggered is extremely important.

#5: Celebrations or Parties

Celebrations or Parties

Even positive situations may be relapse triggers for individuals in recovery from substance abuse. For instance, times of celebration can be extremely triggering. To explain, it is common for birthdays or parties to include drinking or the use of substances. However, individuals recovering from addiction still like to be included in celebrations, parties, or even nights out. As a result, these people may be subject to experiencing a trigger or a craving to use. Seeing other people consume your substance of choice is triggering in nature.

If you are in recovery and attend celebrations or parties, you must prepare yourself to deal with these common relapse triggers. One of the best ways to safely attend parties or celebrations where substances may be present is to bring a trusted friend with you. If you are accompanied by a friend who is aware of your sobriety, they can help to redirect you if you become triggered. Also, if you feel triggered during a party, always remember that it is okay to leave. You should always prioritize your safety and sobriety.

Treatment for Individuals Who Have Relapsed

While relapse does not have to be a part of addiction recovery, it often is. Unfortunately, many individuals who experience relapse after a period of sobriety experience shame or guilt. This can cause individuals to hide their relapse, resulting in a lack of treatment and possibly death. If you or a loved one have relapsed, do not be afraid to ask for help.

New Jersey Addiction Interventions is here to help. We understand what it feels like to deal with addiction, as well as the shame and guilt associated with relapse. Do not let your shame keep you from receiving the medical treatment you deserve. Contact us today for more information on addiction or alcoholism treatment for individuals who have suffered a relapse.

Medically Reviewed: August 20, 2020

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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