Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey, and for some, a journey filled with temptation or peer pressure that can cause a relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that relapse rates for substance use disorders average between 40% and 60%. Returning to drug and alcohol use after trying to stop doesn’t necessarily mean your treatment has failed, but it indicates you may need to resume treatment or find other treatments that work better for you.
Learning how to identify and manage relapse triggers is a critical part of staying sober and healthy following drug rehab treatment. Here’s a look at six common relapse triggers and ways to manage them.
1. Stress and Anxiety
Stress is one of the most common relapse triggers, according to a study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Many people use drugs and alcohol to relax during moments of stress—including those who do not necessarily suffer from addiction. The study reports that mind-body relaxation is effective at reducing drug and alcohol use and at achieving long-term relapse prevention. Exercise, nutrition, quality sleep, and mindfulness meditation are other effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
2. Pain and Illness
Drugs and alcohol can often help relieve chronic pain and symptoms of illness, if only temporarily. People may also use these substances to reduce symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression and PTSD. The NIDA states that roughly 50% of people who suffer from mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder at some point in their lives, given how these individuals may use drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication. If you are suffering from pain or another illness, work with your doctor to address its root cause so you do not feel compelled to turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve your symptoms.
3. Familiar Places and Situations
Relapse may occur when you revisit places and situations you may have found yourself in while suffering from addiction. Going to bars, attending parties, and spending time with certain people can potentially trigger a relapse, especially if drugs and alcohol are easily accessible in these situations. Try staying away from places and situations you associate with your addiction, and immerse yourself in new activities that don’t expose you to drugs and alcohol. Your counselors and therapists at drug and alcohol rehab can also introduce you to new hobbies and interests that distract you from previous situations.
4. Feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (HALT)
HALT is an acronym commonly used at addiction treatment centers to help patients identify why they may feel like returning to drug and alcohol use. Hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are all potential relapse triggers. When you feel the urge to relapse, ask yourself whether you’re experiencing any of these feelings, and address your needs accordingly in healthy ways.
5. Major Life Changes
Divorce, loss of employment, and the death of a loved one are examples of major life changes that can potentially lead to relapse. Positive life changes that call for celebration may also trigger relapses, such as retirement, a new marriage, or a job promotion. When going through difficult life changes, seek support from friends, relatives, and health care professionals; when going through positive life changes, celebrate your accomplishments in healthy ways that don’t involve drugs and alcohol.
6. Social Isolation
Isolation and loneliness are common relapse triggers, as these feelings are often accompanied by other negative emotions like sadness and depression. Avoid social isolation by staying in touch with friends and relatives, and with people in your recovery community including peers, therapists, and doctors. Attend in-person or video support group meetings, and volunteer your time to those in need to stay upbeat and positive about your recovery.
If you relapse after completing a drug rehab program, speak with your addiction treatment provider immediately to resume treatment. Your provider may recommend that you go through drug detox or alcohol detox, and start a new treatment program that seems more promising at helping you achieve long-term recovery.