8 Common Relapse Triggers & Warning Signs

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on April 28, 2023

Some of the most common relapse triggers include negative emotions, major life changes, overconfidence, social isolation, boredom, illness, and people, locations, or events associated with drug use. By learning how to identify and cope with these triggers, you can significantly reduce your risk of relapse.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 40% and 60% of people with drug addiction (also called substance use disorder) relapse. That’s similar to the relapse rate of other chronic illnesses, including asthma and hypertension.

To reduce your risk of relapse, it’s important to know potential triggers. A trigger is anything that makes you want to misuse drugs again. Here are eight of the most common.

1. Negative Emotions

Many people with addiction use drugs to numb fear, sadness, anger, and other negative feelings. During recovery, these feelings can cause drug cravings. That’s why it’s important to monitor yourself or your loved one for signs of an unusually low mood, such as:

  • unusual sleeping habits, such as trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • appetite changes
  • loss of motivation
  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • decline in personal hygiene

To cope with this trigger, you must develop healthy coping skills. Some of the most effective coping skills include journaling, meditating, exercising, and spending time with supportive loved ones. A therapist can help you determine which coping skills will best meet your needs. 

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2. Major Life Changes

When your life changes in a significant way, you may experience anxiety that increases your risk of relapse. These changes might be negative, such as divorce or the death of a loved one. However, even positive life changes, such as a new job, can cause a triggering amount of stress. 

Like other negative feelings, stress can make you crave drugs. That’s why you should make time for relaxing activities like going for walks, reading, and listening to music. Many people also destress by picking up creative hobbies, such as painting, writing, or playing an instrument.

3. Overconfidence

It’s normal to feel confident as you progress in your recovery. However, some people become too confident. 

For example, once they have stayed sober for months or years, they might think they no longer need to follow their relapse prevention plan. In other words, they may abandon therapy, support groups, and other strategies that help them maintain recovery. They may also neglect their coping skills. 

These behaviors typically lead to relapse. To avoid overconfidence, remember that recovery is a lifelong process. No matter how long you’ve been sober, you must keep working hard to protect your health. 

4. Social Isolation

Throughout the addiction recovery process, you must have a strong support system. This system may include family members, friends, healthcare providers, and people you meet in support groups. These individuals can offer much-needed advice and encouragement as you navigate recovery. 

Unfortunately, some people isolate themselves from their support systems. 

Without proper support, you face a much higher risk of relapse. If you notice yourself or your loved one isolating during recovery, consider talking to a therapist. Isolation sometimes indicates an underlying mental health issue, such as depression.

5. Boredom

At the height of your addiction, you may have spent most or all of your time using drugs. Once you become drug-free, you might find yourself feeling bored. Boredom is among the most common addiction relapse triggers, especially in the early stages of recovery.

To avoid this trigger, try to stay busy. Spend time with loved ones as much as possible, and consider picking up some new hobbies. You could also try volunteering. 

By devoting your time to people and activities you care about, you can create a sense of purpose that’s essential to long-term recovery. 

6. Illness

Whether mental or physical, illness can cause a great deal of stress. If you fall ill during recovery, you might feel tempted to numb the stress with drugs. 

Also, depending on your condition, your doctor may prescribe drugs with a high risk of abuse, such as opioids for pain or benzodiazepines for anxiety. These medications can ruin your recovery if you misuse them. 

If you or someone you love shows signs of mental or physical illness, seek treatment right away. In addition, make sure your treatment providers know about your history of addiction so they can prescribe medications as safely as possible. 

7. Certain People

At some point during your recovery, you might run into people you used to do drugs with. This situation could lead to a relapse, especially if the people talk about drug use in a positive way. 

That’s why it’s important to exit these situations as soon as possible. If you experience drug cravings after leaving, contact a supportive friend or therapist, or head to a support group meeting. 

8. Certain Locations & Events

During recovery, it’s a good idea to avoid bars, clubs, and other places associated with drug and alcohol use. Even the smell or sight of drugs could cause intense cravings that lead to relapse, especially in early recovery.

You might also want to avoid high-risk situations, such as alcohol-heavy parties, weddings, or sports events. If you do attend them, plan an exit strategy in case you get triggered. You should also bring a sober friend so you feel less alone.

If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our inpatient addiction treatment programs offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and other evidence-based, personalized services to support your long-term recovery.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse — Treatment and Recovery https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
  2. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Drug Use and Addiction https://medlineplus.gov/druguseandaddiction.html
  3. United States Department of Veterans Affairs — Reducing Relapse Risk https://www.va.gov/WHOLEHEALTHLIBRARY/tools/reducing-relapse-risk.asp

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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