Common Addiction Relapse Triggers in Recovery

MastHead Outline
July 22, 2020

You hear it many times in treatment and from people who are successfully living sober: addiction recovery is a process. Even after you’ve completed a treatment program and have maintained your recovery for weeks, months or even years, you will sometimes have to cope with drug cravings. A person, place, object or situation that cues a drug craving is called a “trigger,” and learning how to handle triggers is an essential part of a successful recovery.

Identifying Personal Triggers

Each person has triggers specific to their own experience with addiction, and identifying your own triggers is not always easy. There may or may not be a direct physical element to point to, but there are a variety of common symptoms that indicate the situation you are in contains a trigger for cravings. The physical symptoms of triggers typically include a tightening or sinking feeling in the stomach and a fight-or-flight feeling caused by adrenaline. Psychological symptoms that indicate you are encountering a relapse trigger include:

  • Increased thinking about how much better you would feel by using again.
  • Reminiscing about time spent using in the past.
  • Considering how you would obtain drugs if you were to relapse.
  • Feeling like you have a strong need for drugs.

A strong trigger can intensify these feelings the point where you feel panicked about not being able to use. This feeling of panic can be overwhelming at times, which is why it’s important to learn and practice healthy coping mechanisms.

The Most Common Addiction Relapse Triggers

Everyone struggles with relapse triggers at one point or another. While every individual may have their own unique set of triggers to contend with, there are many universal triggers you can expect to deal with. Here are five common triggers to be aware of as you go through life in recovery:

1. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

The helpful acronym HALT stands for the four states that commonly trigger drug cravings. They are relatively concrete to identify and are a great place to start when first practicing coping with triggers:

  • Hungry: Sometimes, when you’re stressed or occupied, it can be easy to miss when you’re feeling hungry. If you’re feeling an unexpected craving, stop and remember the last time you ate and whether it was nutritious.
  • Angry: Everyone gets frustrated or angry from time to time, and if you don’t stop to think about it, feeling anger can lead you to start thinking about drugs as the “easy” way to make it stop.
  • Lonely: When you don’t have or aren’t participating in a support network, you lose some of the accountability you get from others. Being lonely or isolated may also tempt you to fill the social void with drugs.
  • Tired: Being tired can heighten all negative emotions and thoughts, including drug cravings. Getting enough sleep isn’t always easy, but it should be a priority, especially in the early days of recovery.

2. Stress

Frequent stress afflicts about 44 percent of all Americans, and being in recovery from addiction comes with its own set of unique stressors you might be tempted to alleviate with drugs. Stress is something you can’t expect to avoid all the time, but monitoring and recording your stress levels regularly can help you get a feel for when stress coincides with drug cravings.

For example, if you find your stress levels are highest at the end of a long day at work, you can plan to participate in a relaxing activity just after to help you decompress, so cravings are not as hard to manage.

3. Boredom

Lack of stimulation and having a lot of free time on your hands almost always increases the frequency of cravings you experience. As your brain continues to restore its normal chemical balance in recovery, the reward system takes a while to return to normal.

During this period of adjustment, normal activities tend to feel lackluster, which may turn your thoughts toward using again. Picking up hobbies with a physical and mental element, such as crafts that require you to plan and work with your hands, is a good way to maintain healthy stimulation and quiet sudden cravings.

4. Celebration

The good news is that you will have a lot to celebrate as you continue in your recovery, but the challenge is figuring out how to celebrate in a way that doesn’t dredge up cravings for drugs. Whether you are hosting or attending a form of celebration, it’s important to have a plan for gracefully exiting the situation if you find it triggering.

5. Relationships

Relationships, romantic and otherwise, are filled with ups and downs that can wreak emotional havoc and have you thinking about drug use as a way to feel better. One way to counteract this common trigger is to seek and develop healthy, supportive relationships based on mutual recovery. A 12-Step or another similar group will provide you with a sponsor who can lend a supportive ear when you need to talk through how relationship issues are affecting your cravings.

Overcoming Triggers in Recovery

The idea that prevention is the best medicine does hold true with triggers. Many triggers can be avoided once you identify them, but it simply isn’t practical to try and avoid every potentially triggering person, place or thing. When you come up against a trigger you can’t avoid, employ these strategies to help overcome it:

  • Do something: Triggers can cause a quick mental spiral that locks you into focusing on your craving. To break free of this cycle, it’s important to have a few fall-back activities you can turn to for distraction and to reset.
  • Say something: There is a reason addiction support groups have sponsors, and it’s because talking through triggers and cravings can be very helpful in overcoming them. Talking to a supportive person can help you process the trigger and reduce its impact in the future.
  • Challenge your thoughts: Relapse triggers cause you to think about the good feelings associated with your prior drug use. Challenge this by remembering why you have chosen sobriety, and refocus on the many positives of your life in recovery.

There is no foolproof way to beat every trigger and prevent relapse, but testing out new strategies and using what you learn in counseling will make you better equipped to handle drug cravings in recovery.

Applegate Understands Recovery

At Applegate, we understand that recovery doesn’t feel linear for many people. There will be times when you are triggered and don’t know how to handle it, but with practice and determination, you can minimize their role in your recovery.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with opioid addiction, our medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program can provide the tools necessary to build a strong foundation for sobriety. To learn more, call Applegate Recovery at 888.488.5337 or contact us online.