Addiction is very complex due to the possibility of returning to substance abuse following a period of recovery. Because addiction is considered to be a chronic condition, individuals who are affected may run the risk of experiencing a relapse at any point in their lifetimes, even after years of sobriety. In order to reduce the risk of relapsing and returning to drug or alcohol use, those in recovery need to learn to identify their potential relapse triggers and to learn effective ways to overcome these triggers rather than returning to drug use.
Relapse Triggers and Recovery
Once an addicted individual has completed a rehabilitation program and has quit using harmful or addictive substances, these individuals will need to continue with their daily lives free of drugs or alcohol. However, there is a chance that those in recovery may relapse and return to drug or alcohol use. In fact, according to statistics provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 to 60 percent of those in recovery from addiction are likely to suffer at least one relapse during their lifetimes.
Triggers and Relapse
Understanding and learning to cope with relapse triggers before they occur can be a key point in avoiding relapse to drug or alcohol use. While relapse appears to be most common in the months immediately following recovery, information provided by the National Development and Research Institutes shows that up to 17 percent of relapses may even occur after 5 years of being free of harmful or addictive substances. Learning the appropriate behaviors and life coping skills during recovery treatment can help individuals to avoid potential triggers or to overcome them as they occur. Even though each individual has unique triggers that may increase the risk of a relapse, there are some common relapse triggers in addiction that a majority of those in recovery may face when trying to remain drug free.
One of the most common triggers is the experience of perceived negative emotions. Rather than dealing with the cause of these emotions, individuals may turn to drug or alcohol use in order to try to avoid the experience. Some common emotions that may trigger relapse include:
• Anger, resentment
• Anxiety, fear
• Frustration, stress
• Loneliness, self-pity
• Depression, fatigue
• Boredom, indifference
• Other feelings the individual wishes to avoid
An individual’s attitude can affect the risk of relapse. Complacency or lack of motivation, overconfidence, and refusing to change behaviors associated with drug or alcohol use may all increase the risk of relapse. Attending a treatment or aftercare program can help those with addiction issues to gain motivation for recovery and to change problem behaviors.
People, Places, and Things
Substance use is often associated in the brain with certain people, places, things, and events. Learning to avoid these triggers and make different choices can help reduce the risk of relapse. A sudden influx of cash may also trigger a relapse.
Attending recovery treatment, especially in an inpatient setting, is vitally important to help individuals to learn their own potential triggering situations and events to help them prepare for the possibility of relapse. A study published in the journal Addiction3 showed that those who receive treatment are more likely to overcome relapse triggers than those who try to overcome their addictions alone. When individuals learn to identify the possible triggers they may face during the recovery process while learning ways to overcome these situations and events, they are more likely to remain free of harmful substances or quickly get back on track should a relapse occur.
1. National Institute on Drug Abuse; Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction; Treatment and Recovery
2. Alexandre B. Laudet, Ph.D. and William White, M.A.; An Exploration of Relapse Patterns Among Former Poly-Substance Users; National Development and Research Institutes
3. Rudolf H. Moos and Bernice S. Moos; Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders; Addiction. Feb 2006; 101(2): 212–222; accessed from PubMed