One thing we always keep in mind at Alpine Recovery Lodge is that overcoming addiction isn’t something that ends in rehab – it’s something that starts there. As our patients finish our program and return to their lives, it’s important to give them the tools they need to avoid relapsing into their old, addictive behavior.
Every person who rehabilitates with us is unique, but each of them has triggers that may make it difficult to stay on the track of recovery. A trigger may be physical, emotional, or even situational.
If someone you love is in recovery, it’s important to learn to recognize some of the most common triggers. It’s not your responsibility to prevent your loved one from relapsing, but it may be helpful to be aware of their triggers so you can be there to offer love and support if they need it.
With that in mind, let’s review some of the most common relapse triggers.
When a recovering addict visits a place where they commonly used drugs, it can be challenging not to revert to their old behavior.
In some cases, this may necessitate moving to a new home or apartment. In others, it may mean avoiding the sites of past drug use, including friends’ homes, bars, or other places they frequented in the past.
As the loved one of a recovering addict, your job is not to keep them away from locational triggers. However, you should try to be aware of them – and be sensitive to them whenever you can.
While locational triggers will inevitably vary from person to person, keep in mind that they may include any or all the following:
- Restaurants and bars
The more the addict is aware of the places that trigger them, the easier it will be for them to avoid them.
It’s very common for addicts in recovery to have a difficult time staying away from people who might trigger them into a relapse. Most such people fall into three categories:
- People who were directly involved in their drug use, including friends, drug dealers, and fellow addicts
- People who enabled their drug habit in some way, including family members and loved ones
- Toxic people who may make the addict feel ashamed, scared, or sad
Of these categories, the first may be the easiest one to avoid. Staying away from the people who both love and enable you is a real challenge.
When your loved one enters rehab, it’s helpful to explore your relationship with them to see if you have been enabling their drug use in any way. You can’t control whether they relapse, but you can certainly control your behavior and how you interact with them.
The person in recovery must pay attention to how they react to the people in their lives. Someone who offers lectures or shame and scolds them about their addiction may have a negative impact on their ability to stay clean. By contrast, a friend who offers unconditional love and understanding can help them resist triggers and stay on track.
Not all triggers are complex. Some are very simple, and these include physical objects that may remind the recovering addict of their old behavior and life.
For example, the site of a spoon or syringe could be triggering to someone who used heroin. A prescription pill bottle might trigger a person who’s working to overcome an addiction to opioids.
The same may be true of experiential objects like music and movies. A drug addict who was in the habit of listening to music while they used drugs might find it painful or even impossible to listen to the same music post-rehab. Music has a powerful impact on the psyche and the reaction to hearing songs associated with addictive behavior may be overwhelming.
We do our best to prepare the people we treat for triggering events, but as their loved one, you can be cautious about recommending things or about using specific objects in front of them. A recovering alcoholic might be able to resist drinking when they’re not in the presence of alcohol, but struggle if they see your refrigerator is full of beer.
Sometimes, a high-stress situation – even if it’s not linked to the recovering addict’s life before rehab – can be enough of a trigger to put an addict at risk of a relapse.
Some situational triggers to be aware of include:
- Big life events like weddings, funerals, childbirth, and graduations
- Significant life changes such as starting a new job or moving
- Anniversaries, birthdays, and other milestone dates
- Parties and holidays
The tricky thing about this type of trigger is that these events seem like they should be a cause for celebration. It may be tempting to wave away the recovering addicts concerns, but doing so puts them in real danger of a relapse. The most important thing is to be sensitive to their needs and to offer support as needed.
Emotional triggers are some of the most difficult to avoid because they can come from inside or outside. Some emotions, such as shame, guilt, and regret, originate within the addict’s brain and can be very tricky to combat.
External emotional triggers can also be hard to avoid. Sometimes, the most seemingly innocuous comment – even if delivered with nothing but the best of intentions – can send a recovering addict spiraling toward a relapse.
Navigating this kind of emotional trigger is tricky. We don’t want addicts’ families to feel that they must walk on eggshells around them; however, what we do recommend is being mindful of your words.
Of course, it’s also up to the addict to be aware of their thoughts and feelings and work not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the things that might lead them toward a relapse. This work may include some of the following:
- Therapy sessions
- 12-step meetings
- One-on-one work with a sponsor
Your best course of action is to make sure that the person you love knows that you support their efforts to heal and that you’ll do the best you can to be an ally and not an enabler.
The final type of trigger I want to mention here is related to the effort a recovering addict makes to reclaim their life after rehab.
You might think that such activities are always positive, but it’s important to keep two things in mind:
- Trying to get back to the way things were before addiction may be a really misguided effort to repeat the events that got the addict into trouble in the first place; and
- It’s easy for recovering addicts to get overwhelmed if they try to do too much at once.
A healthier approach to rehabilitation is to think of your life as something new that you can build from scratch. The addict’s life after rehab may contain some of the same people, places, and activities that it did while they were using, but it’s important to keep only those things that aid in their recovery.
Once again, your job is to provide support and love. You can’t rebuild the recovering addict’s life for them, but you can make sure they know that you care and that you’re there to provide help and assistance where it’s appropriate to do so.