What are the Common Relapse Triggers in Addiction?
When in recovery for a drug or alcohol addiction, the question of relapse is often not “if,” but “when?” Most addicts relapse at least once, and many do so multiple times. If you are supporting a recovering addict, understand that relapse is part of the deal. Don’t give up on your loved one just because she falls off the wagon now and then. As time passes, it should happen less frequently and in order for her to pick up and carry on again, she needs your support, love and understanding.
Addiction: A Chronic Illness
Addiction has long been viewed as a weakness or a flaw in the addict. Many people still see it that way, in fact. The truth, which we know from decades of careful research, is that addiction is a chronic disease. Some of the most compelling evidence comes from a comparison of addiction with other chronic illnesses. Relapse rates for asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes—all chronic, physical diseases—are comparable to those for addiction. When a patient with an illness like diabetes has a relapse, doctors view it as an opportunity to update and reinforce treatment. The same should be done with addicts in relapse.
What Triggers Relapses?
Although relapse is common and normal for recovering addicts, it is important to understand what leads to a relapse so that you can do everything necessary to avoid or minimize it. What triggers a relapse will be different depending on the individuals, but there are some commonalities. Emotional factors are important, for example. Stress, fear, frustration, depression, anxiety, and other emotions can lead to a relapse because using drugs or alcohol represents a coping mechanism. To avoid or minimize the impact of a relapse, be aware of emotions and help your loved one learn ways to cope with feelings that don’t involve substance abuse.
Another important trigger for most addicts is being around people and places that remind them of using. Sometimes this means old friends. It may be necessary for your loved one to cut some people out of her life for this reason. She should also avoid the places, such as bars, where she used to drink or use drugs. Going to parties where people are drinking socially can sometimes be a problem for addicts, especially early in recovery. If necessary, avoid these for a period of time and hang out with her in alcohol- and drug-free zones.
How to Move on After a Relapse
Once you understand how likely relapsing is for a recovering addict, you can help your loved one get back on track after. As with other chronic illnesses, a relapse means that it’s time to get back to treatment. If she has been avoiding support group meetings or has cancelled therapy sessions, convince her to get back into them. A relapse is also a great opportunity for learning. Help your loved one figure out what triggered the relapse so that you can both try to prevent the next one.
Make sure your loved one understands, as you do, that relapse doesn’t represent a failure on her part. She will feel bad and like she failed. Encourage her to forgive herself and to move past the relapse. Support her and let her know that you will stand by her during these difficult periods. Relapse is a part of the journey and it is never a reason to give up on sobriety.