Rehab 4 Addiction

In this post, we discuss 10 of the most common addiction relapse triggers. Many of these triggers make relapse possible but not inevitable. If you are able to recognise and prepare for the triggers in advanced, you are much more likely to cope with them without falling foul of relapse.

Once you have completed reading this article, you will hopefully be better prepared for the challenges you will meet along the way to attaining your long-term recovery goals.

It’s true that some relapse triggers are common amongst former-addicts. However, some triggers will be entirely unique to you. You need to carry out an inventory of possible triggers and note them down.

It’s likely you will not be able to identify triggers until you begin to experience their power. It’s thus a good idea to carry around a small journal to allow you to write down your possible triggers as and when they arise in your daily life.

You will find many relapse triggers are obvious. This could include hanging around with others who are actively using drugs or abusing alcohol. However, some triggers will be less obvious and require constant observation of your mood in order to fully identify.

When you attend a drug and alcohol rehab clinic, a substantial portion of time is set aside for trigger identification. However, this process is often tricky. Trigger identification will require constant effort for the first few years of your recovery.

Even when you have been in recovery for many years, this process of identifying addiction triggers will still require conscious effort from time-to-time to ensure your hard-earned recovery is not taken away from you.

We shall now discuss common addiction relapse triggers. We shall also outline how to manage these triggers so you do not relapse. Knowing your addiction triggers is no guarantee you will not relapse.

However, knowing your triggers and how to manage them does substantially decrease the risk of relapse to a point where you can live your life empowered by the knowledge that you are in control of your behaviour.

Understanding the many faces of relapse triggers

Relapse triggers are many and it’s impossible to offer up an extensive list of triggers. However, triggers tend to fall within one of four types.

These include:

  • Environmental triggers
  • Mental triggers
  • Emotional triggers
  • Social triggers

Below, we outline ten common relapse triggers.

It’s likely you will identify with many of these triggers. We hope you may benefit from analysing the below triggers. We also hope this assists you in managing these triggers so that relapse is less likely to occur.

1. Stress

It’s unsurprising to find stress is in the number 1 position on this list. Stress affects all of us. Since stress affects all of us, it’s important to plan so that you avoid stressful encounters as much as possible. It’s also important to be able to manage stress when it occurs.

We shall not discuss formal stress management techniques in this article. However, stress management training is easily accessible via YouTube and Udemy. Please check out these resources to arm yourself with proven and highly effective stress management techniques.

When it comes to managing stress, the key is to be proactive rather than reactive. Investing in stress management techniques allows you to be as proactive as possible in overcoming stress.

Some events in your life will be highly stressful. This could include sustaining an injury, divorce, illness, losing a loved one and losing your job etc. Other events may be far less stressful, but minor stress may go unnoticed and cause a relapse merely because you underestimate the power of this stress in its ability to test your resolve.

2. HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

Halt is short for hungry, angry, lonely and tired. All of these may be considered emotional needs that are not being met. When your primal needs are not met, you become vulnerable to relapse. All of these emotions are high-risk to your recovery. You need to avoid these negative emotions as much as possible.

You may avoid these emotions by eating plenty of food, drinking water regularly, attending social events as much as possible and getting enough sleep at night. This also means avoiding situations that may cause you to neglect these needs.

For instance, when you work too much, you risk burning out under the constant pressure this entails. Instead, prioritise your own well-being over anything else, including your professional life.

3. Emotions

Your emotions also act as powerful relapse triggers. This includes positive and negative emotions. It’s obvious that negative emotions serve as powerful relapse triggers. When you are sad, angry or lonely, you may begin to think about using drugs and alcohol as a way of escaping these emotions.

Negative emotions are highly uncomfortable, and so using substances may offer a short term solution. However, returning to substances for emotional reasons is likely to cause a full-blown relapse that may be very difficult to overcome.

The fact that positive emotions may cause relapse is less obvious. When you are overcome with positive emotions, you may lose control of your ability to say ‘no’. Positive emotions could also cause you to over-estimate your ability to avoid relapse in situations that are known to test your resolve.

4. Physical or mental illness

Physical illness may also increase the likelihood of relapse. This may be because physical illnesses may also cause a deterioration in mental wellbeing.

5. Social isolation

Social isolation is a well-established addiction trigger. The proliferation of mutual support groups such as SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous occurred to assist millions of addicts to avoid social isolation.

It’s important for you to overcome any reluctance you may have to reach out for help from others. When it comes to relapse, social isolation is a danger you must proactively avoid.

The simplest way to avoid social isolation is to attend a local mutual support group. When you attend a mutual support group, you may benefit from having a sponsor. This person is typically an experienced member of the group who has been in recovery for many years.

You may also avoid social isolation by attending a sports club. We provide a comprehensive list of sports club websites here.

6. Starting a new job or getting promoted

Starting a new job is a stressful experience for many. If you are in recovery, you must be particularly careful to ensure your new job does not risk your hard-earned recovery. When you begin a new job, you may discover you do not like the new role. You may also not get on too well with your new colleagues.

If this is the case and you feel your new job is putting your recovery to the test, you may consider seeking employment elsewhere. After all, no job in the world is worth it if your recovery is put in jeopardy.

Alternatively, when you get a job offer, you may feel it’s only right to celebrate. Just ensure this celebration does not involve alcohol or any other addictive substance.

When you get a new job or if you are promoted, the new role may entail much more responsibility and the associated stress that you are accustomed to. When you experience stress, you may feel the urge to drink alcohol or use drugs to assist you in escaping stress.

If this is the case, it’s worth taking a few days off work and learning some effective stress management techniques to help you better cope with your new responsibilities.

7. Places and social situations

It’s easy to put yourself in situations that test your resolve. If drugs and alcohol are available, you may promise to attend this event but that you will not drink. If you are new to recovery, do not believe your own promise.

Many people’s recovery efforts have been torn apart by attending that ‘once a year’ Christmas party or other events of this nature.

If you are new to recovery, simply give these events a miss. The temptation to use drugs or drink alcohol is just too great. No matter what you promised yourself before you found yourself in a situation where drugs or alcohol were in front of your face, there is a great chance the urge to relapse will be just too great for you to bear.

It’s thus important to make a list of people, places, situations and sensations that could urge you to relapse.  You then need to avoid these as much as possible. Doing so will help to ensure you are not caught off guard.

8. Too much confidence in your resolve

When you have been in recovery for several months, it’s likely you will begin to feel more and more confident in exposing yourself to certain people and places that would have caused you to relapse in the past. Being confident in your recovery is not a bad thing. However, being over-confident certainly is a bad thing.

As a rule of thumb, if you have not been in recovery for at least 24-months, we urge you to simply avoid people and situations that may urge you to use drugs or alcohol. If you do have to attend an event that could test your resolve, at least invite your sponsor along for support.

9. Relationships and sex

When you are new to recovery, it’s sound advice to avoid entering a new relationship. Entering a relationship with somebody who is not sensitive to your needs as an addict in recovery is almost guaranteed to result in relapse.

One reason why it’s a good idea not to enter a new relationship is because of the risk of breaking up and the emotional hurt this can cause. If your new relationship does break down, you may recommence your drinking or drug use as a way of escaping the emotional pain this breakup has caused.

10. Reminiscing and over-glamorising drug use in your past

It’s likely some of the defining events of your youth took place in the presence of drugs or alcohol. As you age, you may desire to re-taste your youth by attending events and places where drugs and alcohol are readily available.

This yearning for youthful experiences probably means you are viewing your past with rose-tinted glasses. Reminiscing about or glamorising in this way serves as a powerful addiction relapse trigger if acted upon.

We are not saying you are prohibited from enjoying yourself. Just enjoy yourself in ways that do not test your recovery. If past experiences resulted in drug or alcohol use, then it’s likely you will be unable to re-experience these events without experiencing powerful urges to use drugs or drink alcohol.

Getting the right help if relapse occurs

It’s important to know that it’s not the end of the world if you do relapse. In fact, many experts now consider relapse to be a natural consequence of addiction. Addiction is often compared to chronic conditions such as asthma because of the relapse potential of both conditions.

If you do relapse, then your needs may be best served by a drug or alcohol rehab clinic. It may be possible for you to regain your recovery by attending outpatient therapy sessions. Others will merely require the support of their mutual support group.

Common mutual support groups taking place across the country include SMART Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you require drug and alcohol rehab or outpatient therapy, contact us today on 0800 140 4690.

Our free helpline allows you to learn about suitable addiction treatment options in your local area. Most locations in the UK have access to a variety of treatment programmes.

When you contact us, we carry out a short assessment to help us recommend addiction treatment that’s well matched to your precise needs. If you have recently relapsed, time is of the essence. The longer you procrastinate on seeking treatment, the harder it will take to regain your recovery.

Contact us today to ensure your route to re-establishing your recovery is as straightforward as possible.


Tim has written about recovery and addiction for well over a decade. He is currently writing a book about exercise and recovery. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cookie and spending time with his wife, children and three dogs.