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Common Relapse Triggers

Signs and Symptoms in Addiction Recovery and Treatment

Addiction relapse is a common phenomenon; it is part of the recovery process and not a mark of failure.

Relapses occur when an addict starts doing their addictive behavior after a period of abstinence. For example, a recovering gambler is said to have relapsed if they place a single bet, as much as if they went to Las Vegas casinos and gambled.

Relapse triggers are emotional, physical, or mental events that ‘trigger’ a response that will eventually send you sliding back into relapse and addiction.

Addicts have different triggers which vary from being as simple as seeing a tv commercial of your favorite beer brand to as complex as believing you are healed after several years of drug abstinence which prompts you to relapse.

For most people, removing the cause of addiction from one’s life is easy. The difficulty lies in changing the habits that trigger craving and committing to the recovery process.

While in a rehabilitation center, an individual receives constant care and advice on how to handle their addiction. Such persons are overwhelmed once they are out in the real world with no one to monitor their activities. Everyday problems became a challenge, and they fall back on the habits that led to their addiction.


Recovery is a life-long process.

While the intensity of addiction triggers lessen with time, you have to work on remaining drug-free continuously.

A relapse does not just happen; it involves you putting yourself in a high-risk situation, thinking you have your impulses in check and denying the existence of your addiction.

While each step may appear insignificant, put together, the events can jeopardize months or even years of recovery.

The most successful method of preventing relapse lies in identifying your addiction triggers and learning to control or eliminate them from your life.

Here are some of the most common relapse triggers.

11 Common Relapse Triggers

Good Times

The general misconception is that addiction relapses stem from traumatic or sad events when, in reality, good times are most common for triggering events.

When you get a new job, pass an exam, buy a car, or inherit a million dollars, you want to celebrate.

We all have that particular thing we do when we want to have a good time.

For addicts, chugging twelve bottles of beer or snorting some coke is the ideal choice.

As a recovering addict, you have restricted yourself from your source of joy.

Other forms of entertainment bring you no pleasure, especially in the early years of recovery when your brain requires a higher level of dopamine productive for you to experience euphoria. As a result, the addict is easily tempted to turn to drugs to experience a high ‘just one more time.’

And isn’t that how the addiction started in the first place?



The brain has an uncanny ability to associate places, things, and people with the emotions they cause. For instance, we associate our parents with love and attention and childhood homes with fondness.

Places that remind you of a traumatic event in your life, such as rape, accident, or abuse are linked with negative emotions.

Similarly, when addicts revisit places they associate with past drug use, the environment acts as a trigger. You become agitated, and the temptation to use heightens. This is because the connection between your reward center and the memory hub has been altered.

The location triggers you to expect the addictive drug. Thankfully, this cause of relapse has a simple solution- avoidance.

If this option is unavailable to you, where the trigger is your family home, you can make controlled visits while seeking the advice of a therapist who will help you keep the location-based trigger in check.


We all experience stress in our daily lives and have developed mechanisms such as meditation, Tai Chi, or yoga.

Stress reduces the brain’s production of dopamine, causing you to feel low, anxious, and depressed.

For addicts, the profound feeling is inherently worse since your brain has been hard-wired to expect higher than the average production of dopamine for you to experience euphoria.

The body’s automatic response to stress is to seek relief, and for an addict, comfort comes in the form of your addictive behavior. Therefore, it is vital that you learn to manage your stress healthily to ensure long-term success in your recovery.

Rehabilitation therapy can help you learn different tactics of managing stress.


HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired)

The first step of any relapse is when you put yourself in high-risk situations.

If your too hungry or tired or very lonely or angry, you tend to reach for something that will give you instant relief.

Herein lies the pitfall, according to the theory of ego depletion, the more tired you are, the less likely you are to exercise your willpower. As an addict, you are always fighting your addiction.

Therefore, it is essential that you adhere to a healthy regiment to avoid being in situations where your willpower is compromised. Ensure you eat healthily, exercise regularly, participate in social events, sleep well, and take up stress management tactics such as meditation.

Bad Times

Negative emotions are what prompt you to start using drugs, alcohol, or destructive behaviors.

Bad things inevitably happen, and when they lead to negative emotions such as sadness, grief, or anger, the brains dopamine production is impaired.

You crave for something that will make you feel better.

Most people reach for food, but addicts reach for their source of addiction to get that ‘high.’ The more rewarding the drug is, the easier it is to be addicted, and the harder it becomes to recover.

You need to remember that the rush of dopamine from substance use only last for a short time. You need to come up with a more lasting solution, as bad things will undoubtedly happen.

Learn to manage the negative emotions that result in a more healthy way.

You can start by minimizing exposure to these emotions and work on creating positive relationships with those around you.

You can also take up swimming, boxing, or running as an outlet for your feelings.

Cognitive behavioral therapy also has strategies that will help you in your efforts.


This is by far the most obvious and the most dangerous trigger. Self- confidence is an admirable trait, but over-confidence puts your recovery at risk.

When you are over-confident you become complacent; you begin to think you have your addiction under control and test this hypothesis by putting yourself in high-risk situations.

You can even start to deny the existence of your addiction because life is going great. You have repaired all the relationships your addiction ruined, you doing well at work, and you feel no need to attend your recovering addict’s meetings or to adhere to your relapse prevention plans.

This usually happens after several years of recovery and is a recipe for disaster.

The solution is to keep reminding yourself that your addiction is a chronic disease, and recovering from it is a life-long process.

No matter how long your abstinence, for you it can never have ‘just the one.’


Most recovery programs suggest that you avoid dating in the first year of recovery. People tend to ignore this advice.

However, relationships require a lot of work, and recovering from an addiction is a complicated process that requires a considerable amount of commitment for you to successfully check your addiction.

A new romance diverts your effort and puts your recovery at risk. A fight with your new partner will put you in a stressful situation while a break up will bring up feelings of resentment, anger, and loneliness, which will lead you to use again.

You may also be using a new relationship to replace the high you got from drugs. This puts you at high risk of jeopardizing your recovery.

It is crucial that you avoid romantic relationships altogether during your first year of recovery.

Additionally, when you start dating after several years in recovery, put a plan in place to ensure that the relationship does not jeopardize your recovery.


Social Situations

In as much as a relapse trigger can be anything, attending events where drugs and alcohol are freely available puts your recovery at risk.

For instance, if a former alcoholic agrees to go to a reception with an open bar. You are in a high-risk social situation. Even if he does not take a drink, he is tempted. And the next time, he might not be able to resist.

In some cases, it is not always so straightforward- simply smelling wet paint or hearing champagne bottle pop can be enough to trigger intense cravings.

Make a list of things that are a strong personal trigger.

Be sure to think out of the box and elicit the help of your counselor or sponsor. It will help you be on alert for smells, feelings, and sights that risk your recovery.

Reminiscing Times of Addiction

This trigger is sometimes referred to as the good old time syndrome.

When you find yourself glamorizing your past years of addiction, be on alert.

You begin to overlook the harm your addiction caused, the pain and suffering to your loved ones, and the drain on your finances.

If you are continually thinking about drugs or alcohol, that’s a significant red sign of a relapse, such thoughts will only feed your cravings, and your addictive brain may soon take over.

Fondly thinking about past use will lead to talking about fun times, which will inevitably lead to future use.

Seek out your sponsor or counselor when you find yourself a victim of this pattern. They will help remind you of your reasons for abstaining from drug use.

Social Isolation

The support groups for different kinds of addiction are a vital aspect of the recovery process. You get a chance to interact with people who are trying to control a similar bad habit, and you talk about the challenges your experiencing and learn from the coping mechanisms others have used.

A reluctance to join such as group or attend therapy is a common relapse trigger. You are unconsciously isolating yourself, and the more the isolation continues, the higher the chances of a relapse.

Driven by feelings of loneliness, it becomes easy for you to rationalize drug or substance use to yourself.

Make attending your support group a priority in your life. Try to be an active participant.

If you are suffering from social anxiety, seek the help of a qualified professional to guide you through the pitfalls of recovery.



Exposing yourself to drugs or alcohol after years of abstinence can easily lead to a relapse. This may not necessarily happen right away.

You will see drugs, and you will crave them. It may be easy the first time to walk away, but each time you are re-exposed, walking away becomes harder.

This trigger is bound to happen, and as such, you must learn to manage it.

During your early years of recovery, avoid exposure to your source of addiction and in later years, make controlled contact only when necessary. A therapist will serve you well in handling this particular trigger.

Triggers are very complex

Triggers may vary depending on personal mental, physical, and emotional state.

You will always crave drugs or alcohol, and recovery will be a life-long brutal process but with great reward.

Work with a qualified professional to identify your personal triggers and learn how to manage them.

The key to staying clean is recognizing when you have been exposed to a trigger and having a solid relapse prevention plan.

The risk of relapse will always be there even if you know how to manage all your triggers and avoid high-risk situations.

If you do slip-up, it does not mean you have failed. You are not automatically doomed to drug addiction for the rest of your life. You can still recover.

Admit yourself into a rehabilitation center and start the recovery process again. Learn from your relapse and get some insight on how you could have avoided the relapse altogether

If you need help dealing with a relapse, you can get in touch with the Hotline at our Recovery Center where trained and experienced professionals are available to assist you in every way.

The staff at Chateau Recovery is always available to help you with all of your questions regarding addiction recovery and treatment. Call anytime.

Chateau Recovery Center 375 Rainbow Lane
Midway, UT 84049, USA

If you or someone you love has questions concerning the rehabilitation process, call our free helpline Phone: +1 888-971-2986 for more information. Calls are always confidential, private, and secure.

Tips On Staying Sober Through A Bad Day

Here are some tips for dealing with relapse triggers from an experienced recovering addict.

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