The Many Triggers That Precede Relapse

Staying sober requires constant vigilance and awareness of the many things that could trigger a relapse. Some relapse triggers are obvious, such as hanging around bars or wandering around neighborhoods known for high drug trafficking activity. Even continuing to hang around with friends or acquaintances who habitually use alcohol or drugs can be dangerous and asking for trouble. The word “slip” is an acronym for Sobriety Loses Its Priority. You could be heading for a slip if you put yourself in harm’s way, or when you aren’t surrounding yourself with support from sober people. But there are other things and people who might trigger a relapse or uncomfortable cravings that are not as obvious as walking into a bar or running into your drug dealer. Some of these things seem perfectly innocent, but the end result may be the same.

  1. Over-the-counter medications. Medications sold over the counter sometimes contain chemicals that can be abused or used addictively. One example of this type of medication is NyQuil. Although NyQuil is intended to relieve the symptoms of a cold or the flu, a person with addictive tendencies may find that NyQuil or similar medications gives them a warm fuzzy, groggy feeling that is soothing. If you read the directions on the medication, it usually advises users to take no more than three or four doses a day. But a recovering alcoholic may guzzle a whole bottle without worrying about it because it is only an OTC substance. Abusing NyQuil or other substances that contain alcohol or mind-altering chemicals can be physically dangerous, and can easily trigger a relapse.
  2. Medical problems and prescription medications used to treat them. Recovering alcoholics or addicts who struggle with medical problems or physical pain may be given prescription medications under a doctor’s supervision. When these medications are doubled up or not used as prescribed, relapse has begun. Doctors aren’t always well-trained in relapse prevention. If you have medical problems, you will need to take responsibility for your own addiction recovery. Discuss the treatment of your pain or illnesses with your sponsor or an addiction professional.
  3. Depression. Undiagnosed or untreated depression can cause an addict to seek out chemicals for relief from unending feelings of sadness or despair. Addiction is often triggered by trying to self-medicate when you have mental health issues that aren’t being treated. If everything you try doesn’t seem to relieve feelings of depression, see a doctor. 
  4. Extreme happiness. Extremes of any kind can be threats to sobriety, and that includes happiness, excitement and other good feelings. Recovering addicts may be surprised to find that if they go through a period of extremely good feelings, they may have the urge to pick up substances to prolong or intensify extreme feelings of happiness.
  5. Relationships in early sobriety. Addicts have a tendency to use all things including people addictively. It’s not unusual for a relationship early in sobriety to trigger an urge to relapse. This could be triggered by any stress within the relationship, up to and including breakup. Don’t rush into relationships when you first get sober. Take the time to get to know yourself when you’re not under the influence of any chemicals, so that ultimately you can have a healthy relationship. 
  6. Trying to get other people sober. If your own sobriety isn’t built on solid ground, you may find that if you try to help someone else get sober, your efforts backfire. They may cause you to want to pick up a drink or a drug. Addiction is a dangerous and insidious disease. If you are trying to suggest recovery to another addict, bring someone else in recovery with you.
  7. Isolation. If you find yourself avoiding people, you may be on your way to a relapse. Twelve-step programs are “we” programs. Together we can do what none of us can do alone. Avoid isolating. 

There are probably as many possible triggers for addiction relapse as there are people. In order to stay sober, the desire to be sober has to be the top priority in your life. It’s up to you to remain alert to life’s many possible relapse triggers.

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