16 Jan Relapse Triggers : Internal vs. External
Although many people who seek treatment for addiction hope that they can stay sober afterwards, approximately 40 to 60 percent of people relapse. A relapse doesn’t mean that you failed or that the treatment wasn’t successful. Treatment for many chronic illnesses, including addiction, often requires multiple rounds. Even though relapse is a common part of recovery, it can be serious or fatal. Therefore, it’s important to address relapse triggers so that you can remain aware that relapse is always possible and use your resources to avoid or cope with those internal & external relapse triggers.
What Are Relapse Triggers?
Triggers for relapse are situations that remind individuals of their drug use. Triggers are psychological, emotional, social and situational cues that can induce cravings. Strong cravings that crop up in response to triggers can be difficult to curb without the right support and resources.
Relapse triggers are conditioned. Like Pavlov’s dogs, which learned to salivate when they heard a bell ringing, people with addiction learn to crave drugs as a response to certain situations. Your brain links those cues to using drugs. It’s not easy to unlearn that paired association.
For example, if you used drugs every time you were with a specific group of people, you might feel triggers whenever you’re in the same social situation. If you always cracked open a beer after you came home from work, took off your shoes and sat down in front of the TV, that routine may give you the urge to drink.
Cravings are powerful and can lead to relapse. Learning to identify cravings and triggers is a crucial step in recovery. You also need to learn new ways to cope with the relapse triggers as well as your cravings so that you can overcome them and avoid relapse.
External triggers are factors outside of yourself that make you want to use drugs. These triggers may involve people who influence cravings, such as drug dealers, coworkers, friends, spouses, partners and employers. Even people who are incredibly close to you may act as relapse triggers. That’s one reason that it’s so important for your loved ones to be on board with your recovery.
Places can be external triggers too. Going to concerts, restaurants, bars or certain friends’ houses might bring back memories of using. You might not be able to disassociate the place with the drug use. If you return to those places, you might feel an uncontrollable urge to follow the same patterns as you used to in those locations.
Some situations are external triggers for relapse. Situational triggers are different for everyone. The situations may involve stress, such as meeting new people. However, situational external triggers may include intimacy, family gatherings, parties and major life changes. Cravings may also be sparked by situational triggers such as:
• Being overwhelmed with work
• Having too many things on your plate
• Financial distress
• Caring for your children
• Family responsibilities
Finally, objects serve as external triggers. The most insignificant item can spark intense cravings. For example, powdered sugar can elicit an urge for drugs in someone who used cocaine. A belt may remind a heroin user of their addiction.
Internal triggers for relapse are those that come from within. These triggers are thoughts or emotions that make you want to use drugs.
Negative feelings are strong internal triggers for relapse. Fear, guilt, shame, anger and depression are common internal triggers. If you feel criticized or belittled, you might want to turn to substances to numb those feelings or push them aside.
Positive feelings can also serve as internal triggers. For example, when you’re celebrating with friends and feeling confident, you might feel as though you can have just one drink because you deserve it. Some other positive emotions that are associated with relapse include happiness, strength and sexual arousal.
In many cases, when you feel “normal” again, you might be overly confident that you can handle being in situations that serve as external triggers. That confidence is one of the most difficult internal triggers to manage. You have to make sure that you prepare yourself with the proper tools and coping methods to avoid being surprised by cravings.
You probably experience nervousness, frustration, pressure, fatigue, embarrassment or boredom from time to time in your everyday life. While some people process these feelings easily and let them roll off their back, individuals in recovery can have a hard time managing these emotions.
Stress is a crucial element that can lead to a relapse. Because many people begin using drugs to manage pressure, they might not know how to handle stress triggers if they haven’t developed other coping mechanisms.
How to Deal With Relapse Triggers
Identifying triggers is essential to managing your recovery. However, that’s not all it takes. Many people who want to avoid relapse need to avoid the triggers once they recognize them.
That’s often easier said than done. While you may be able to avoid going to a bar or attending a party where you might have used drugs in the past, you can’t realistically stay away from some triggers, such as your spouse or your kids, forever.
Furthermore, internal triggers can follow you around. Because they’re created by your psyche, they’re part of you. You might feel helpless to avoid them.
Therefore, it’s essential to develop coping methods that allow you to work through your triggers without resorting to drugs. You might need to find alternative places to hang out or take time away from the family for self-care on a regular basis. This takes experimentation. Moreover, it requires time.
Relapse doesn’t always happen overnight. It often starts with strong emotions that make you neglect your physical and psychological well-being. Then, you might begin to justify why and how you can use again in a more controlled way.
If you do relapse because of your triggers, using substances can be deadly. You might go straight to the dose that you’re accustomed to, but your body can no longer handle the same levels of drugs. A relapse can quickly become an overdose.
It’s understandable to be concerned about relapse after completing a substance abuse treatment program. Triggers may seem to be everywhere, and you might want to isolate yourself to avoid them. That’s not the best solution, either.
At New Method Wellness, we can help you learn more about triggers, relapse and addiction. We also provide various forms of holistic therapy that can provide fulfillment and effective coping methods. Immersing yourself in this supportive community will help you recognize that you’re not alone and give you the opportunity to work through your triggers so that you set yourself up for a lifelong recovery.