Relapse – Triggers, Warning Signs & Prevention - Premier Counseling
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Relapse – Triggers, Warning Signs & Prevention

Mackenzie Davis, LCSW

Recovering from substance abuse and addiction can be difficult, and most people in recovery will tell you it’s a lifelong process. Getting sober is one thing. Staying sober is another. Avoiding relapse and maintaining sobriety takes work. For this reason, most newly sober people will take the time to understand how and why relapse occurs and make a plan to avoid relapse. In this blog, we take a closer look at what relapse is and how to develop a prevention plan to maintain your sobriety.

What is Relapse?

Relapse, simply, is using a substance or substances after achieving sobriety. In many cases, relapse happens in three stages. First, you experience emotional relapse. You may not be thinking of using or actually using a substance, but you’re experiencing emotional instability that may be triggering. After experiencing these heightened emotions, you may start thinking about using. This is the second stage called mental relapse. During this stage, you may find yourself thinking seemingly innocuous thoughts like, “This stress is why I used to drink,” but even a thought as harmless as this, can lead to more serious thinking about using and even planning how to get access to alcohol or drugs. Then, you are at risk to enter the final stage, physical relapse. This is the point at which you actually use a substance. By recognizing the signs of emotional and mental relapse, you can start to develop a plan to prevent physical relapse and maintain sobriety.

Common Triggers that Lead to Relapse

Everyone’s experience with substance abuse is different, and one of the first steps to preventing relapse is recognizing your specific triggers and developing a plan to avoid relapsing when triggering situations occur. Some of the common triggers include:

  • Withdrawal and post-withdrawal symptoms immediately after getting sober
  • Poor stress management
  • Poor diet (over or under eating)
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Spending time with friends or family member who still use substances
  • Spending time in places where you used substances
  • Dealing with heightened emotions (grief, anger, anxiety, etc.)
  • Struggling to establish or maintain relationships
  • Feeling isolated after distancing yourself from people who abused substances with you
  • Feeling overconfident in your ability to maintain sobriety

Resources for Preventing Relapse

Preventing relapse is all about recognizing the triggers that lead to emotional and mental relapse. Then, you should have a plan for how to react if you’re experiencing triggering emotions or thinking about using. In most cases, the first step is to contact a sponsor or other person who provides supports for you during sobriety to ask for help. If you regularly go to AA/NA meetings, you should make sure to attend meetings frequently during times of emotional or mental relapse. Additionally, spend time with your supportive family and friends who will encourage you to maintain sobriety. Scheduling an appointment with a counselor can also be beneficial.

What Happens after a Relapse?

According to research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60% of people in recovery will relapse at some point. After a relapse, the first and most important step is to contact your support system. If you have a sponsor through AA/NA, reach out immediately. Contact appropriate family and friends, and don’t hesitate to ask them for help as you regain your sobriety. Talk with your support system about what occurred leading up to the relapse and try to remove triggers. If you regularly attend group meetings like AA and NA, make sure you’re making time to take advantage of these resources. After a relapse, you may also want to consider counseling. At Central Arkansas Group Counseling, one of our team members can partner with you to learn mindfulness skills and other techniques to reduce your risk for future relapse. To find out more, simply call our team in Benton or North Little Rock.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash