Addiction Relapse Triggers

Addiction Relapse Triggers

Many readers may be surprised to know that addiction relapse is common — something I discussed in my post, “5 Reasons People Relapse After Years of Sobriety.”  As David Sack, MD, explained in his October 19, 2102 article,” Why Relapse Isn’t a Sign of Failure,

As with chemical addiction, patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension frequently fail to comply with their ongoing treatments—relapsing, if you will, oftentimes with dire consequences. Thus, no matter the chronic disease, it is ultimately up to the individual to adjust his or her lifestyle and assume responsibility for managing his or her own care. Unfortunately, removing the drug (detoxing) is the easy part. Changing the behaviors that compel the addict to use is significantly more difficult.

Helping readers identify common addiction relapse triggers and what a person can do to avoid them is the topic of today’s post by guest author, Trevor McDonald. Trevor is a freelance author who has shared his recovery story with as one of its Faces of Recovery. He can be reached by email at; via LinkedIn; or through his Website.

Addiction Relapse Triggers You May Not See Coming by Trevor McDonald

Addiction Relapse Triggers

Trevor McDonald shares his thoughts on addiction recovery relapse triggers and what a person can do to avoid them.

No one can tell you what your road to recovery will look like. They can only tell you the experiences of those who have walked this path before you. One person may crave a glass of wine at dinner while another may need a hit before every social gathering. Relapse triggers are as personal as cravings.

You’ll have your major triggers that are obvious. If you are recovering from alcohol abuse, you may be triggered by the mere smell or sight of alcohol. But you may not expect these hidden dangers and relapse triggers.

Family stress

When you were using, you escaped stress by your drug of choice. If you were always drunk or high, you might not even remember your major stress triggers. Family can be a big one for a lot of people, especially when taken in large doses like at the holidays. Answering questions about your past and future may be a trigger you didn’t see coming because they may affect you in ways you wouldn’t expect.

To combat family stress, learn healthy ways to manage your feelings. Meditation, yoga, and exercise are all good outlets for stress.


Watching tv is a favorite pastime for most of us, but it can present recovering addicts with a hidden source of triggers. You don’t always know what you’re going to see. Although that’s part of the entertainment, you may see something on television that triggers a craving.

Try limiting your television time and be careful about the shows you watch. Some are more prone to triggers than others. The news can be especially dangerous for a recovering addict.

Social media

As you scroll through your newsfeed, you never know what you’re going to see. You may see a nice story about adoptable kittens or a tragic tale of a fatal DUI accident. Just like television, social media can trigger cravings, stress or negative feelings that lead you down the path of a relapse.

If possible, give yourself a social media break in early recovery. When you feel it’s time, step back in slowly.

Romantic relationships

There’s a good reason why you’re advised to stay away from romantic relationships in early recovery. Getting involved with someone before you’re ready is one of the biggest dangers people unwittingly face in recovery. Wait until you feel strong on your own and aren’t as concerned about relapse. Co-dependency can be a major issue, and many people use new relationships as though they are drugs. Dealing with heartbreak during recovery can also be a major relapse trigger. It’s best to avoid sex and relationships for the first year out of recovery, if at all possible.

Reasons to Celebrate

Just as you turned to drugs as a coping mechanism, you probably also used them to celebrate. Now, whenever it’s time to celebrate in your sober life, you may get pulled back into your old way of thinking. Celebrations can be a relapse trigger because people tend to want to celebrate with things that make them feel good. Alcohol is especially tied to celebrating in our society, so this is most problematic for recovering alcoholics. Job promotions, weddings and anniversaries are all hidden triggers for anyone in recovery. You can’t avoid celebrations altogether, nor would you want to, but you can find healthier ways to celebrate. Maybe find a non-alcoholic beverage to toast with or suggest taking a friend out for coffee instead of drinks.

The most difficult triggers to manage are the ones you weren’t expecting. You may not even realize their effect until it’s too late. Learn to look for the warning signs of relapse, including depression, irritability and lack of structure, and get help if you think you’re on the verge.

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3 Responses to Addiction Relapse Triggers

  1. Glad you included staying away from romantic relationships, at least at the beginning.

  2. MAUREEN FAHY says:

    Hello: my son was in recovery at a sober home in florida and had been sober for about 6 weeks. His drug of choice was heroin and sometimes cocaine. He met a woman on Tinder and they met for a few hours at a restaurant. It seemes from his facebook that they had a good time and arranged to meet again so he could tutor her in math for her upcoming gre exam. He would have liked an intelligent woman like that. When he got back to the sober home he relapsed with cocaine. It had fentanyl in it which he would not have wanted. I am wondering if he was celebrating the good time that be had with this woman and the fact that they would get together again. I think he chose cocaine thinking it was safer. His conversations with her on fb were very humerous and i am sure he had a good time. This relapse killed him. I am wondering if you think he may have been celebrating his successful date and thought he was playing it safe by choosing cocaine?

  3. Paul says:

    I’m so glad that this has come right before the festive season – it’s so great to be reminded about triggers, especially leading up to a time where you know there are going to be quite a few. I’m heading to family this Christmas and I’m a little anxious about it, but I’ve got all my triggers listed and I’ve shared them with a few key people who are going to be there, so that I have a better chance of being safe. Holding thumbs I sail through this time. Thanks again for this!

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