Shoreline Sober Living, San Diego, CA
Drug Addiction Relapse Triggers

Addiction recovery will be one of the most challenging experiences an individual will go through for various reasons, one of which is the potential for relapse. It can be tough to predict if a specific incident might trigger a relapse. However, it is possible to understand the common relapse triggers and develop a plan in response if you were to experience one to ensure your addiction recovery is not jeopardized.

To help you avoid relapse triggers and stay on the path to a sober life, we will look at various common relapse traits that many individuals have been through. With this in mind, you will be able to avoid or at least be prepared for a possible trigger while putting a plan in action to ensure you stay strong in your recovery from addiction.

Stages of addiction relapse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), individuals recovering from any kind of addiction often experience at least one relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Relapse is more of a process rather than a single event and can be broken down into three stages:

Emotional Stage

Emotional relapse is very often the first stage in which the individual experiences. The former drug addict will begin to experience a wave of negative emotions that seem to appear out of nowhere; these can take form in either anger, anxiety, depression, moodiness, insomnia, and unusual eating habits.

These are generic warning signs that an individual who is currently in the recovery process is possibly entering a situation that will result in a relapse. Family members and friends need to identify these signs immediately and act appropriately.

Mental Stage

The second stage is mental; this will be more of an internal struggle for the individual. Within this stage, the individual will become aware that their body is desperately yearning for some form of drugs.

An internal mental struggle will begin where the individual’s body yearns for the harmful substance. Still, the individual is pushing themselves to stay on the road to long-term sobriety. The longer the individual resists the urges to abuse, the more intense dreams, thoughts, and the desire to abuse will become.

A recovering addict will need as much love and support as humanly possible during this stage to ensure they do not abuse again. Unfortunately, once a mental relapse has taken hold, it does not usually take long for the final stage’s progression to take hold.

Physical Stage

The last stage is the physical battle, in which the recovering individual breaks their sobriety and abuses. Cravings will intensify the minute the individual uses; this can quickly turn into a situation in which the individual has begun abusing regularly. It is essential to get the substance abuser back into treatment to withstand a chance of getting them back on the road to long-term sobriety.

Common triggers for a relapse

Every individual will have a different set of triggers that could potentially ruin their long-term sobriety; however, there are various common triggers that many individuals will experience; the most common trigger is depression.

Substance abuse and depression have often been heavily linked to each other. Individuals combatting depression will often use drugs to eradicate the feeling they are experiencing. The individual will end up in a vicious cycle, where they are determined to be sober but end up feeling depressed, which drives them to abuse; however, substance abuse deepens the depressive feeling.

Various other common relapse triggers can take form as:

Intense emotions that fluctuate

Anger, sadness, frustration can all lead to relapse just as much as extreme intense happy feelings. Depending on the individual, feelings can be experienced at both a high and low point. Some people feel intense emotions when they are happy because they want that feeling to last. Therefore they will go out of their way to ensure they will continually feel that way; others will feel intense emotions when they are sad, let down, and need empathy from a trusted friend or loved one.

Specific objects

If a recovering addict sees objects such as pill bottles, syringes, or wine glasses, they may mentally be taken back to when they were abusing. Even if the items are removed from eye view swiftly, the individual thoughts can be left lingering, possibly for weeks.

Rekindling previous relationships

Connecting or running into old friends that you abused with or previous romantic relationships that drove you into a dark place can cause intense, painful memories, which will again cause vivid thoughts to linger.

It is entirely normal to, on occasions, feel as if you want to return to a person that once bought you comfort, even if that comfort was from a dark place. However, you will need to push yourself to stay away from the temptation; otherwise, you risk ruining your long-term sobriety.

Special events

Unfortunately, happy times, celebrations, and special events can lead to a relapse; the risk is significantly increased if these events include alcohol and drug temptations.

There will never be a time where you can avoid every family celebration; there will inevitably be alcohol or drugs around you at some point in your recovery process.

To be on the safe side, ensure you have something constantly in your hands, such as a fizzy drink or orange juice. This way, you are partially feeding your craving and keeping yourself occupied.


Stress is up there with the top reasons for an individual to relapse. The majority of previous addicts would have turned initially to substance abuse to deal with unavoidable negative stress within their lives.

While it is impossible to eliminate this element from your life, you can look into positive ways to manage your stress levels without risking going back to abuse.

One of the best ways to avoid a certain amount of stress is to look into your life and examine any unnecessary stressful situations or individuals that negatively influence you. To ensure you have the best chance of staying on the road to long-term sobriety, you will most likely need to remove these people and situations from your life, especially if they are unwilling to change their behavior, which you view as negatively affecting your well-being.

Social isolation

You can not stay on the road to long-term sobriety if you attempt to do it alone. You need people around you to help encourage and keep you on track. You will completely plunge yourself into depression and loneliness if you were to keep yourself from loved ones. The likelihood of your former substance disorder sneaking back into your life is exceptionally high.

Social isolation is a widespread issue for many people on the road to long-term sobriety; however, there will be more people than you know who are ready to support you, whether that is family, friends, support groups, or people online. You need as big a support group as possible to ensure you stay sober.

Final thoughts

Learning to recognize warning triggers is vital to keeping yourself and loved ones securely on the road to long-term sobriety. If you are struggling, reach out to a trusted loved one, build a network of people who you can lean to prevent a relapse from occurring.

If you do relapse, do not take this as a sign of failure, do not dwell on what happened, and push yourself into a deep negative mindset.  Simply carry on with your therapy, ensure you are entirely supported and be open with communication. Tell the people you trust what caused you to relapse so more robust defenses can be put in place to stop another deterioration.

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