recovery and relapse triggers

How Relapse Triggers Rob You of Recovery

Relapse is sometimes considered to be a part of recovery, but it doesn’t have to be. Many people in recovery can quit once and quit for good. But, if relapse does happen, it doesn’t mean you failed and can’t start again.

If you do relapse, then more than likely you experienced one or more relapse triggers. When getting sober, everything can seem uncertain. You don’t know what to expect, and you’re unsure if you can live life sober.

This is normal, but it helps to learn from people who have been in your shoes before. Those people are in large part your fellow recovery group members. Counselors, rehab programs, and healthcare professionals can also assist you in staying sober as well.

The truth of the matter is that you can learn how to live a successful and sober life. One of the most important tools for recovering long-term is to be aware of your relapse triggers. So, what are some common relapse triggers most people in recovery will face?

Common Relapse Triggers

During recovery, life will continue. There will be ups and downs, and knowing how to deal with them is the key to your success. Explore the following relapse triggers to become more aware of potential obstacles along the way.

Uncomfortable Emotions

Many people entering recovery are disconnected from their emotions. They may even fear or avoid their feelings entirely. This fear and avoidance may have led them to their addiction in the first place— to dull their feelings or replace them with a high.

In essence, your substance of choice can be, at first, a coping mechanism. But, it can then turn into an addiction when you feel physically or psychologically dependent on it.

When you first get sober, your emotions may feel overwhelming. Not only are you fearful of the unknown, but you also may be experiencing discomfort while detoxing.

Learning how to cope and accept your uncomfortable emotions is essential. After some time, you’ll how to soothe them effectively. To start, listen to others at recovery meetings and pay attention to how they express their emotions.

Feel free to speak up at a meeting, or talk with your sponsor or a friend. Emotions are a part of being human, and having an awareness of them will be helpful on your road to recovery. To cope with your uncomfortable emotions, try meditating, praying, talking with a trusted friend, or exercising.

You can also accept your emotions and then attempt to distract yourself. Journaling is also helpful.

Remind yourself that it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be happy and joyful all the time. It’s okay to be sad, angry, stressed out, or fearful. The critical part is catching it in the early phases and using coping skills to move past them.

People, Places, and Things

“People, places, and things” is a common saying in recovery communities. What it means is to be aware of the people, places, and things that may trigger you and remind you of your addiction. By knowing what may trigger you, then you can create a plan for avoiding them or coping with them.

In the beginning, it’s helpful to avoid these triggers as much as possible. Going to a bar, visiting with friends in active addiction, or keeping reminders of your addiction around is never a good idea. In the long-term, it may be a good idea to avoid your “people, places, and things” altogether as well.

If you do come into contact with one of your “people, places, or things” during recovery, have a plan for coping with the trigger. For example, speak with your sponsor, go to a meeting, or call another recovering addict.

Social Isolation

Many people in recovery may feel uncomfortable being around people without their substance of choice. Initially, they may have used their drug of choice to deal with social anxiety, to give them courage, or to feel like they fit in with their peer group. While it may take some time to feel at ease in social situations, it’s best to avoid social isolation.

Social isolation can provoke feelings of loneliness. If you experience anxiety around people and find it challenging to be in social situations, then discuss this with your sponsor, a therapist, or a medical professional. Accept that you feel fearful in social situations and try not to judge yourself harshly.

If you think you may have a social anxiety disorder, then speak with a doctor, counselor, or medical professional for additional help.

In many ways, you’re just getting to know yourself again. And just like being “the new kid in school,” it’s natural to feel a bit apprehensive. Trust the process and continue going to meetings regularly to engage in social interaction.

Highly Positive Emotions

Intense positive emotions like excitement and delight can also be triggers for some. Positive, high-energy emotions feel wonderful, but they can also remind you of past use. In advance, determine healthy ways for expressing your excitement such as by planning a sober get together or calling your sponsor to share to the good news.

Making a list of coping skills and tools will also be helpful. Having these nearby and being prepared will also make you feel more at ease to experience positive emotions in a healthy way.

Thinking About “The Good Ol’ Days”

Thinking about the “good ol’ days” can make you start to believe that your addiction “wasn’t so bad.” Of course, there were good times, but there were also a lot of negative aspects as well. And the negative certainly outweighed the positive.

Just like breaking up with an unhealthy partner, seeing your addiction through “rose-colored glasses” could cause you to believe that you can recreate all the good times and avoid the bad.

When you catch yourself reminiscing about the good times, “play the tape forward.” In other words, be realistic about the real consequences you could face by returning to drug or alcohol use. Remind yourself of how it felt to be addicted, of how you will need to detox again, and of the negative aspects of your addiction.

Accepting that you are a person addicted to a substance can also be helpful.

New Romantic Relationships

Many recovery programs suggest not dating or getting into a new relationship for the first year of sobriety. New relationships are exciting, but they also can cause emotional stress, which could trigger a relapse. There also may be a concern that you may replace your previous addiction with a sex or love addiction.

Many people use relationships to fill a void within themselves, not just people in recovery. But, people in recovery are at risk for jeopardizing their sobriety if they do enter a relationship too soon.

Keep in mind that you’re learning more about yourself and how to manage your emotions. Fully developing these skills and knowledge is essential for having healthy relationships and choosing a healthy partner.

Taking Action Against Relapse Triggers

Being consistent in your recovery program will help you to manage your relapse triggers. This means going to meetings, talking with your sponsor, and making a habit of practicing self-care. Recovery is a lifelong endeavor that can lead to a fulfilling life, but it needs care and attention along the way.

Be prepared for relapse triggers and have a plan in mind to successfully avoid relapsing. If you do relapse, then use it as a way to understand your triggers more in-depth and to create a plan for managing and avoiding them in the future.

If you or a loved one need help to get sober, Addiction Treatment Services can help you get the support you deserve. Contact us for more information.

Emotional Triggers

Recovery Can Be a Roller Coaster: How to Deal with Emotional Triggers

Relapse is a common part of the recovery process. In fact, 40-60 percent of individuals who struggle with substance abuse or addiction will relapse at some point.

Often, when people relapse, it is because they were faced with a trigger (or series of triggers) that they could not handle.

The more you know about your triggers and what kinds of coping mechanisms help you to deal with them, the less likely you’ll be to deal with relapse yourself.

Read on to learn more about common emotional triggers and the steps you can take to handle them in a healthy way and reduce your risk of relapse.

What Are Emotional Triggers?

An emotional trigger is anything that causes you to feel uncomfortable or experience any other kind of emotional reaction.

An example of an emotional trigger might be feeling angry or defensive when someone makes a comment about your past behaviors or feeling jealous when you see someone posting about an experience they had on social media.

Virtually anything can be an emotional trigger to someone.

Learning to identify emotional triggers is an essential part of the addiction recovery process.

Often, people turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope with difficult emotions like jealousy and anger. In order to attain and maintain your sobriety, you need to find other, healthier ways to handle these feelings.

Common Emotional Triggers

A variety of different feelings can act as emotional triggers for folks who are in recovery. It’s important to note, too, that not all of these feelings are negative, although they certainly can be.

The following are some common emotions that can be triggering to people struggling with addiction:

Negative Feelings

When most people think of feelings that trigger a desire to use drugs or alcohol, they think of these kinds of negative feelings:

  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Irritation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Overconfidence
  • Jealousy
  • Sadness
  • Neglect
  • Overwhelm

A person might also become emotionally triggered when they feel that they’re being criticized or that they’re being viewed as inadequate.

Neutral Feelings

Neutral feelings can be emotional triggers, too.

For example, if someone is feeling bored, they might feel an urge to turn to alcohol or drugs just to give themselves something to do. They might turn to alcohol or drugs when they’re feeling relaxed, too, or if they want to feel more relaxed.

Positive Feelings

Positive emotions can even be triggering to some people. This is where things get really tricky.

For some people, celebrations might trigger a desire for alcohol or drugs as a way to let their hair down and enjoy some good news. Excitement, happiness, and passion can also be emotional triggers.

Tips for Recognizing with Triggers

Emotional triggers are often more difficult to deal with than other types of triggers. You might be able to avoid certain situations and people when you’re in recovery, but you can’t avoid all emotions.

Instead of trying to stay away from emotions when you’re recovering from addiction, it’s important to learn healthy ways to deal with all the different emotions you might experience.

Before you can deal with emotions and emotional triggers, though, you first need to figure out what your emotional triggers are.

Here are some tips that can help you start to identify your emotional triggers:

Notice Physical Reactions

Does your heart start beating rapidly when you get angry? Do you clench your fists when you’re stressed?

When you experience reactions like this, work backward to figure out what kind of emotion you’re feeling. Then, work backward some more to figure out what’s causing that emotion.

Notice Your Thoughts

Pay attention to the thoughts that run through your head, too. Have you suddenly started thinking irrationally or in extremes? What happened that brought on those thoughts?

What Happened Earlier?

You might not always experience emotional triggers when someone says or does something. You might be more prone to them, though, after a long day or after something else went wrong.

When you start experiencing physical reactions or negative thoughts, think about the context of the day and what kinds of situations might have contributed to them.

Tips for Dealing with Triggers

Once you’ve identified your emotional triggers, the next step is to learn to deal with them. Everyone handles their triggers differently, so you’ll have to do some experimentation to figure out which approaches work best for you.

The following are some ideas to help you get started:

Focus on Your Breath

When you start feeling physical reactions or negative thoughts in response to an emotional trigger, it helps to focus on your breath. This can calm your body down and get you out of a “fight or flight” state.

Try to Find Humor

It can be helpful to try and find humor in the situation, too. Often, we make issues more serious than they need to be. If possible, take a step back and try to find a way to lighten the moment.

Write Things Down

Many people also find that they can cope with triggers better if they write down how they’re feeling and nail down exactly what caused the feeling. Writing also gives you an opportunity to reflect and pause instead of reacting in an unhealthy way.

Take a Break

Sometimes, you just need to separate yourself from the situation altogether.

Whether you take a break to go write in a journal or engage in a hobby, taking a break before you respond can help you avoid losing your temper or saying or doing something you’ll regret later.

Get Help with Recovery Today

It’s not always easy to identify and cope with emotional triggers. The more you learn about yourself and the more you practice, though, the better your coping skills will become.

Remember, too, that you do not have to go through the recovery process alone.

If you need support from addiction recovery professionals or others who are also in recovery, we can help at Addiction Treatment Services.

Contact us today to learn more about different recovery programs in your area.

We have compassionate, caring admissions specialists available 24 hours a day to answer all of your questions and point you in the right direction.


Mojá, C. A., & Spielberger, C. D. (n.d.). Anger and Drug Addiction – Carmelo A. De Mojá, Charles D. Spielberger, 1997. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from