If you’re currently in recovery, the possibility of relapse will likely always be a source of worry. After all, addiction is a “chronic, relapsing disease” with relapse rates on par with other chronic diseases: according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the substance abuse relapse rate is around 40-60%, which is actually lower than relapse rates for high blood pressure and asthma (both 50-70%).
But that doesn’t mean relapse is nothing to worry about. Addiction, rehab, and recovery can look a little different for everybody — this is why we’re committed to individualized treatment plans for our clients at The River Source. In our programming, we focus not only on getting clean, but developing skills and strategies to help clients resist factors (“triggers”) that threaten their sobriety.
With this in mind, there are certain triggers that present themselves more often than others. Here are four of the most common sources of temptation and a few ways to overcome them and avoid relapse.
1. Chronic Stress
We all experience stress in our lives, and we all have coping mechanisms to provide stress relief. Maybe we go for a run or read a book to relax before bed. A person who has just finished rehab may now be experiencing new stressors on top of the ones that existed previously. There might be new work obligations, or perhaps they’ve had to move to a new residence. All of these things pile up, and it’s enough to make anyone look for a source of relief.
And now, old coping mechanisms — say, having a few drinks after work — aren’t available. Now is as good a time as any to start looking at new ways to handle stress. A light jog around the neighborhood is a really nice place to start. Or maybe you pick up a new hobby, something low-impact and therapeutic.
2. Loneliness and Isolation
During someone’s time struggling with addiction, hurtful things may be said, or perhaps trust is broken in other ways. Maybe loved ones are key enablers to a person’s substance abuse disorder. Loneliness is extremely common in recovery, especially in the early days, when the risk of relapse is at its highest.
This loneliness can arise without notice. For example, you might have to miss a friend’s birthday celebration for fear of exposure to substance use. Family events such as holiday meals or weddings might be tricky to navigate — not only because of the presence of alcohol, but because of the relationships that were damaged by addiction.
But being alone and feeling alone are two sides of the same coin. Most people can be alone, but it’s that feeling of loneliness, as if there’s a void in your life that needs to be filled, or you’re missing out on your life, that can lead to relapse. It’s important to work out support systems and structure for when this happens, because we all experience it sometimes.
3. Proximity to Reminders of the Addiction
Triggers can vary from person to person. When someone gets out of a rehab program, no matter how effective it was or how strong they feel in their sobriety, their personal histories with people, places, and things have the potential to cause negative feedback. This is especially true if a person exits rehab and continues living near the place where they did when they were struggling with addiction. Seeing the same people, walking by the same places, and being confronted by the same events and occasions may make triggers especially difficult to avoid.
Regardless of where you live, in the modern age, anything can reveal triggers for relapse. While browsing social media or watching TV, you might see one of the hundreds of advertisements for brands of beer or watch an episode of your favorite show that features substance abuse.
4. Pain or Illness
People will also have associations with how the object of their addiction made them feel. In many cases, drug or alcohol abuse started as a way to deal with physical pain, often even as the result of overusing a drug prescribed for pain. Substance abuse is also used as a response to emotional pain (grief), as an escape when a loved one passes or a relationship ends abruptly, for example.
Pain, illness, and grief are feelings that you’re likely to experience after you’re in recovery. When those old, familiar feelings arise and trigger cravings to revert back to the same old coping mechanisms, you’ll need to have a way to resist and deal with pain in a new, healthier way.
Consistent Support when Triggers Threaten Your Recovery
At The River Source, we realize that addiction is lifelong disease, and as such, recovery is lifelong battle. A focus in rehab and AA groups is the idea of developing humility — you never know when addiction will come back and try to pull you back down into substance use, which is why you need to be aware of the possibilities at all times.
This is why, in our programming, we focus on healthy coping and relapse prevention. It’s also why we maintain a strong alumni network with continued access to counseling services and group meetings, no matter how long it’s been since a person got out of rehab. If you or a loved one are struggling in your recovery, reach out to The River Source and get the help you need.
From the 12-Step Perspective
In the 12-Steps we learn another perspective about triggers and how to avoid situations with a high relapse potential. In Chapter 7 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book titled “Working with Others” it states that any plan built around avoiding alcohol or drugs and shielding ourselves from temptation is likely to be successful for only a short period of time before it ultimately fails with an inevitable relapse. We have tried these methods many times with little long-term success.
So what, then, is the solution? The 12-step solution is spiritual in nature and is built upon a foundation of being honest with ourselves. The Big Book gives us these directions: “So our rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there.” AA Big Book page 101
We can see that the foundation here is honesty as we must ask ourselves, “do I really have a legitimate reason for going somewhere where there may be triggers?” We can confidently make these decisions if we have been maintaining a daily practice of living in spiritual principles. The Big Book continues on to give us some more explicit directions: “But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good. Do not think of what you will get out of the occasion. Think of what you can bring to it. But if you are shaky, you had better work with another alcoholic (or addict) instead!” BB Page 102