Preventing Addiction Relapse - Triggers & Signs

Relapse prevention

Understanding Triggers & Warning Signs

It doesn’t matter if you’re new to recovery or an old timer, understanding triggers and warning signs is an integral part of any recovering addict or alcoholic’s relapse prevention plan.

What Are Triggers?

A relapse trigger is anything that makes us think about, want to, or justify using again. Triggers are often associated with people, places, and things. We each have certain people we do drugs with, specific places we get high, and the things we do and use in the process. But our triggers go well beyond these basic people, places, and things.

Another way to think about triggers is the three Es: Emotional, environmental, or exposure. Triggers include certain emotions, like wanting to drink after having a fight, or wanting to get high when we’re sad. Being in unhealthy environments, such as bars and nightclubs can be triggers, and make us think about wanting to use. Exposure to drugs and alcohol is one of strongest triggers most of face, and it should be avoided at all costs.  

What Are Warning Signs?

Warning signs are like triggers, in that we need to be constantly aware of them and avoid them when possible, but they’re intrinsically different. While triggers are primarily things outside of ourselves, warning signs are a part of us. Warning signs are behaviors and attitudes that we express that may mean we are more likely to relapse. They are, quite literally, the warning signs that a relapse is coming. Here are some common examples of warning signs:

  • An overconfident attitude regarding the ability to stay clean.
  • Socializing with old friends who still use.
  • Glamorizing past drug use.
  • Telling lies and engaging in dishonest activities.
  • Becoming self-pitying.
  • Not going to AA meetings or treatment.
  • Convincing yourself that just one won’t hurt.

Relapse Is Preventable

The reason so much effort is focused on relapse is because it is preventable. Although relapse is common—and forgivable—the fact remains that it rarely happens without warning. In hindsight, the warning signs were there, our guards were let down. To embrace recovery, we must constantly be aware of both our warning signs and triggers, and share them with our support system. That way, if we’re not recognizing the signs, someone else is.