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Avoiding Addiction Triggers and Relapse Risks


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Let us introduce you to Martin. Like many people, Martin was reluctant at first to admit that he had a problem with his drinking. But after some persistent coaching from his family and friends, he finally entered treatment.

Once he enrolled in a treatment program, Martin realized how badly he needed the support of a structured program to control his alcohol use. He saw the harm that his drinking had caused to his relationships with his family and friends, and how even his boss had begun to notice the impact.

When Martin completed treatment, he was elated. He felt like he had a new lease on life, with more energy and focus. His family and friends were highly supportive of his recovery, and his boss complimented him on returning to work with a new level of commitment.

There was just one roadblock: Martin hadn’t accounted for how often he would encounter reminders of his past life. In fact, Martin found himself being reminded of his drinking nearly every day. Every Friday, for example, he would skip after-work drinks with co-workers only to drive past his favorite bar and feel an intense urge to stop in for a drink there. In another case, Martin found himself craving a drink whenever he spoke with his brother, which always meant tough conversations that left him feeling anxious and stressed.

While Martin had accomplished a lot in treatment, he wasn’t fully prepared for how many addictive triggers remained in his life. A trigger can be anything, from a person or a place to a feeling or experience that we associate with substance use. In Martin’s case, he associated drinking with the end of the work day and with managing stressful situations. Unfortunately, because Martin hadn’t developed alternative strategies for dealing with these triggers, he felt cravings every time he experienced them.

Eventually, Martin found a new way of dealing with these triggers. Instead of skipping after-work drinks and heading straight home, Martin scheduled a 12-step meeting for that same time, substituting one group of friends for another. And he invited his brother to join him in family therapy sessions, helping them resolve some long-standing issues. Eventually, Martin could speak with his brother without feeling the urge to drink.

Martin’s story is informative because it illustrates just how commonplace addictive triggers are in our lives. While we can make major progress within a treatment program, the situation is different when we re-enter our everyday lives. Without the same level of structure and support, it becomes easier for us to succumb to triggers and even relapse.

Managing Addiction Triggers & Preventing Relapse

Here are four strategies to deal with addictive triggers in the real world:

  1. Identify your most common triggers. Everyone’s triggers will be different. Some people will have a very strong association with particular places and people that are connected to substance use. Others will have used addictive substances primarily when they were feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed. Others may associate drug or alcohol use with recreation and parties. Whatever your triggers, you need to identify where, when, and how you are most likely to be vulnerable when you complete addiction treatment.
  2. Develop coping strategies. Though it may seem obvious, developing coping strategies to manage addictive triggers can be difficult. For example, if one of your triggers is spending time with drug-using friends, you may have to make the difficult decision to cultivate new sober friends instead. While not everyone in your life will understand why you are making these adjustments, most people will appreciate your desire for positive change and be supportive. Make sure to plan ahead and have a backup plan for situations that you know may trigger your substance use.
  3. Enlist the support of friends and family. One of the most powerful tools we have in our recovery toolkit is the support of our friends and family. You may have undergone family therapy during addiction treatment and strengthened your connections to your loved ones. If not, you may want to investigate such an option after you complete treatment. Cultivating allies within your family and friend groups will be critical to maintaining your sobriety moving forward. Peer support groups like 12-step programs are also great places to find social support and structure.
  4. Stay connected to your treatment program. Your treatment program wants you to succeed and find long-term sobriety. That’s why they provide a variety of different resources to help you, from aftercare support to alumni programs. But it’s up to you to take advantage of these offerings. Don’t neglect the support network that your treatment program provides, and don’t be afraid to reach back out for help if you find yourself struggling with addictive triggers on a regular basis.

With proper support, strategies, and planning, you can manage addictive triggers and lower your risk of relapse. And if you do relapse, remember that you have not failed. You need to reconnect with your treatment provider and discuss how to adjust your recovery plan accordingly.

If you’re struggling with addictive triggers and worried about relapse, our team can help.

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