Relapse Triggers - South Bend, Indiana Drug and Alcohol Rehab Center

Common Relapse Triggers and How You Can Avoid Them

man triggered to relapse

In substance abuse treatment, discussions surrounding triggers and relapse prevention are very common and vital to maintaining sustainable recovery. Addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” This complex brain disorder is comprised of repeated misuse of a substance or multiple substances.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 40 to 60% of people suffering from substance use disorder will experience a relapse. Often times, an addict will experience triggers that ultimately lead to the relapsing component of this vicious cycle. Triggers are social, environmental, or emotional situations that remind the user of their painful past experiences or past drug and alcohol use. These memories often provoke urges that, if left unaddressed, can lead to a relapse. While triggers do not force an individual to pick up drugs or alcohol, they can increase the chances of relapse.

Individuals in recovery learn how to avoid some triggers. However, there are certain triggers that are unavoidable. Furthermore, it is vital that you think ahead and work to create a relapse prevention plan while in addiction treatment so you will know what to do if you experience an unavoidable trigger. Here are a few common relapse triggers that can potentially affect your sobriety.


One of the most insidious triggers is boredom. The empty space, the white noise throughout your day, this is a common void that many addicts must fill. Boredom often allows the mind to trail off to “what if” situations triggering thoughts of consuming alcohol or other drugs. Individuals who struggle with substance abuse disorder often experience a world of chaos and constant conflict during the time they were actively using drugs and/or alcohol. Once these individuals get sober, they often have difficulty adjusting to the lack of chaos. Boredom can be a major trigger for individuals in recovery. It is important for you to work with your therapist or other sober support to construct a plan for coping with boredom in healthy ways.

Conflict in Relationships

One of the most common and potentially disastrous relapse triggers is conflict within interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the conflict arises within your marriage, a friendship, a working partnership, sober support relationship, or familial relationship. Prior to getting sober, you may have coped with conflict by using alcohol or other drugs to deal with the emotional pain or resentment. However, now that you are sober, it is vital that you find healthy ways to resolve and cope with relationship difficulties. It is always a great idea to work on communication and letting go of resentments. If you have a 12-step sponsor, it is always important that you take the time to call him/her if you are struggling so you will have support during these situations. Often times, a sponsor or therapist will help you adopt a different perspective and help you implement healthy coping and conflict resolution techniques.

Celebratory Experiences

It may sound counterintuitive for a recovering addict to pick up a drink or drug during the happy times. However, celebratory experiences can lead to relapse. This is especially true when these moments of excitement involve parties or memories of celebratory intoxication. While you can avoid attending parties or events that include alcohol and other temptations, you probably won’t be able to avoid them all. When you get sober, you do not want to avoid all family gatherings, birthday parties, etc. but it is important that you establish a plan for celebratory events in which alcohol may be present. If you are invited to one of these events, it is wise that you bring sober support along with you. This will help you to avoid any potentially uncomfortable scenarios and cultivate further accountability. To avoid a potential relapse, t is also important that you create a backup plan before you attend the party, in the event, you begin to feel triggered.

Untreated and Undiagnosed Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders are common for individuals with substance use disorders. In fact, substance abuse commonly begins when an individual attempts to self-medicate or cope with undiagnosed anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental illness. Research suggests that untreated mental illness can lead to impulsivity in which an individual will use drugs or alcohol when facing relapse triggers, without properly assessing the potentially fatal consequences. Fortunately, there are many dual diagnosis treatment centers that specialize in treating co-occurring disorders simultaneously. This method of treatment does not involve the use of addictive medications and will treat mental illness while also addressing substance use disorders.

Days When You Need to H.A.L.T

H.A.L.T. stands for “hungry”, “angry”, “lonely”, “tired”, and these are times when practicing healthy coping skills will benefit you the most. These emotions are common for individuals in early recovery and are often triggers for relapse. Establishing healthy coping skills and a relapse prevention plan should include dealing with these emotions. For example, if you are tired and do not have the ability to rest, you should plan to take a short break for meditation or to grab a coffee. Furthermore, if you are feeling lonely, it’s a great time to head over to a 12-step meeting and engage in the fellowship or call your sober support. When dealing with H.A.L.T. it is important to remember that the feelings you are experiencing are only temporary.

Relapse Prevention at PAX Riverbend

Addiction recovery does not take place in a sealed bubble but rather in the midst of life on life’s complicated terms. Life is full of complicated relationships, mental illness, temptations, and many other hardships. PAX Riverbend takes an individualized approach to addiction treatment and prides itself on helping each client prepare for the unique challenges they each may face. Our experienced staff works with each individual to identify his/her strongest triggers and creating an effective relapse prevention plan to help them maintain lifelong sobriety. It is important to remember that you can always reach out for help if you are struggling, either by attending a 12-step meeting, contacting your sponsor, connecting with alumni, or meeting with your therapist. If you have any questions about addiction recovery, call PAX Riverbend today!

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.