Top 7 Relapse Triggers And How To Manage Them

The period of addiction recovery that takes place after completing a treatment program requires the ability to identify addiction triggers and use healthy coping skills to deal with them. How you manage addiction triggers determines the effectiveness of relapse prevention.

Top 7 Relapse Triggers And How To Manage Them

After addiction treatment, people who have faced alcohol and drug abuse now have the opportunity to implement a relapse prevention plan to maintain sobriety.

Being able to identify triggers and implement healthy ways to manage them will be critical skills for your recovery journey.

Read on to learn more about common triggers, where they come from, and healthy ways to deal with them.

Types Of Addiction Relapse Triggers

A trigger is something that calls up a memory of drug and alcohol use or that causes a craving or desire for substance abuse.

There are two types of triggers: those that come from you and those that come from outside of you. These are called internal and external triggers.

Internal Triggers

Triggers that come from within you can be difficult to deal with because internal triggers can stem from a variety of sources that you can’t simply remove, like you can an external trigger.

Internal triggers can come from:

Managing these triggers often requires the ability to process experiences in your past that led to emotional wounds or trauma.

External Triggers

External triggers come from outside of you. They often involve people with whom you engaged in alcohol and drug addiction or places where it occurred.

External triggers may include:

  • the alcohol aisle of a grocery store
  • movies or TV shows that display drug use or bring up trauma that may have happened to you
  • social media

Part of managing external triggers involves simply removing the source. This may mean leaving the grocery store or not saying hello to a friend from that period in your life.

But external triggers can become internal triggers if they bring up experiences you haven’t processed.

Addiction Triggers And How To Manage Them

Below are some common internal and external triggers that you may face after leaving a recovery center. It is important to note that these are not all the possible triggers you could face.

Some triggers are specific to you and your experience. Use this list to start thinking about what triggers you are likely to face in your recovery journey.

Drug Or Alcohol Cravings

It may seem obvious to point out that drug and alcohol cravings can trigger a relapse, but it is worth discussing so that you can develop a plan for dealing with these triggers.

A craving is an intense desire to engage in substance use again. Cravings may not always have an immediately identifiable source, and they can be difficult to overcome if you feel surprised by them.

However, you can get through cravings for drugs or alcohol using one of many strategies.

Self-care habits make great strategies for responding to or preventing drug and alcohol cravings.

Examples of self-care include:

  • getting good sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • engaging in a new hobby or interest


Friends can be a huge benefit to you throughout the recovery process. But there are typically two kinds of friends who may be external triggers for drug or alcohol use.

Old friends may be an external trigger if you used to engage in substance abuse with them. Meeting old friends may cause you to reminisce about old times, romanticizing alcohol or drug addiction.

A friend doesn’t have to be facing substance abuse to be a trigger. Friends who express harsh or judgmental attitudes toward past substance use can bring up feelings of shame and loss of self-esteem. These things can also trigger a relapse.

A way to manage these external triggers is to have a support system of friends and family members who are encouraging and help you address challenges that come your way. You can also get this by joining support groups.

Emotional State

Emotional relapse is the first of three stages of relapse, so keeping an eye on your emotional state is an important way to manage triggers.

The warning signs for emotional relapse include:

  • negative thoughts
  • harsh or judgmental attitude toward others
  • withdrawing from your support network
  • missing meetings with your support group

Some studies have indicated that mindfulness-based relapse prevention skills can be an effective way to deal with emotional triggers.

Mindfulness practices include staying in the present, being aware of your surroundings (including potential triggers), and meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a way to recover your sense of well-being in the face of stress.

The Stressors Of Daily Life

The stressors of daily life can include several triggers including coworkers, on-the-job stress, finances, and family tensions.

Rather than try to address each individual one, a helpful strategy may be to develop healthy ways of dealing with stress in general.

In addition to the mindfulness practices outlined above, apply what you learned in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches people how to identify and process triggering situations or events.

You may even be able to reach out to aftercare services offered by your treatment center and get a refresher session.

Mental Health Conditions

Mental health conditions may be a significant internal trigger, especially if you have an undiagnosed mental health disorder.

Mental health disorders that often co-occur with addiction include:

Getting appropriate treatment for these conditions will go a long way toward helping you process negative emotions and feelings of intense anxiety.

Chronic Physical Health Conditions

Dealing with chronic physical health conditions can be draining. Chronic pain, for example, can be a trigger for opioid use.

Finding new ways to deal with chronic pain may be an essential way of managing this relapse trigger.

If you are facing chronic pain, reach out to your recovery center, if you haven’t already. They may be able to connect you to healthcare services that help people address chronic issues in ways that are safe.

Feeling Lonely

The recovery journey can be a lonely one because you are addressing issues that other people around you may not need to address. This can leave you feeling isolated and emotionally down.

The best way to deal with this relapse trigger is to have a strong support network. Reach out to family members or friends who are safe and encouraging or join a support group.

It is possible to engage with people near you who are also going through the recovery process. Having people to relate to and share your story with can make all the difference.

Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment Today

Are you or a loved one facing substance abuse for the first time? Call us today. We have more information for you about the recovery process and how to get started.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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