A drug relapse occurs when someone with a substance use disorder returns to the drug after spending time being drug-free. Relapses are common on the road to recovery. They do not mean failure. They, can, however, present a serious setback – one that could prove fatal if an overdose occurs. Knowing the most common triggers as someone struggling with drug addiction or a family member could help prevent a dangerous situation.
Feeling HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired
Many 12-step recovery programs use the acronym HALT to help people struggling with addictions recognize the real reason they are feeling the need to use. Being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired can all be a trigger for drug use. The brain may be feeling imbalanced or depressed. Instead of thinking drugs are the answer, the individual should HALT and think about whether it’s something else, such as one of the things on the acronym, or another emotional issue that the person can resolve without drugs. Relapse prevention may include activities like eating a good meal, addressing the cause of the anger, talking with a friend, or getting sleep.
Recovery is a lifelong battle. Some people will never fully lose the urge to do drugs. What keeps them sober is a strong support group helping them through difficult times. Departing a safe, sober space such as an inpatient rehabilitation facility could trigger a drug relapse if the patient does not move into another support group. It is important for someone with a drug problem to keep up with meetings and addiction groups post-rehabilitation. This can help hold them accountable.
Many people recovering from addictions never stop going to meetings or receiving recommendations from group leaders and licensed professionals. Meetings and 12-step programs play integral roles in lifelong sobriety. If your loved one leaves rehabilitation and stops going to meetings, it could be a red flag for a potential relapse. Encourage the person to go back to meetings or to call his or her program sponsor.
It can be easy to plan for bad days as someone with a drug addiction. You may expect some days to be more difficult. You know how to turn to tools such as meditation or group therapy to work through your feelings. What you might not have expected was a traumatic event to occur. A car accident, sexual assault, domestic abuse, near-death experiences, or the death of a loved one could all derail your recovery if you let it. Traumatic experiences are common triggers for relapse.
Unexpected accidents are one of the reasons it is so important to have a strong support system. Having a professional you can call when you feel a relapse coming on can make all the difference in times of emotional strife. Knowing you are not alone even in the most difficult situations can bolster you enough to resist a relapse. If something traumatic happens to you, call someone you trust to help you work through it without using drugs.
Stress is one of the most common root causes of a drug addiction. It also plays a large role in relapses. Feeling stressed at a job, in a relationship, or because of a tough financial situation could lead to uncontrollable emotions and behaviors – including drug abuse. Learning healthy methods to cope with stress is important during the recovery process. Rehabilitation centers can teach tools for handling stress or anxiety in a healthy, productive way. These may include:
- Deep-breathing techniques
- Yoga and meditation
- Physical exercise
- Open communication with others
- Drinking hot tea
- Lighting incense or a candle
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Spending time with people you love
Someone with an addiction can fall back on these tools in times of stress rather than reverting to old bad habits, and learn how to cope with daily stressors without using substances. If you are struggling with stress during recovery, focus on lowering your overall stress for long-term mental well-being. Eliminate toxic people and relationships in your life. Create new, positive relationships that center on open communication. Improve your physical wellness and focus attention on mental health. Speak to a therapist to help you manage anxiety symptoms.
Parties and celebration events often involve alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. For this reason, celebrations (even with good intentions) can be dangerous settings for people in recovery. Going to a party could trigger a relapse because it reminds you of a situation in which you would normally do drugs. Certain friends, locations, and events could bring back bad memories – or pleasant memories – that make you want to use. Exposure to drugs, alcohol, or paraphernalia such as a pipe could also trigger a relapse.
A party may also have people who are not supportive of your recovery who might pressure you to use. Avoiding celebrations, especially at the beginning, can help prevent a relapse. You could always host your own party if you are feeling out of the loop with your friends or family. Host a sober party or barbecue during the day, with lots of fun activities to take up the time. Staying in control of your environment can help you avoid people or situations you know may trigger your desire to use.
Too many people underestimate the power of drug abuse triggers. They suffer from overconfidence – something that could lead to a setback. Although optimism and hopefulness during recovery are important, feeling overly confident in one’s abilities to resist temptation could put one in a dangerous situation. Assuming you can keep drinking alcohol if you have a drug problem, for example, could lead to a relapse. It’s always better to think on the safe and careful side, especially during your first months in recovery.
Overconfidence can lead to someone refusing to ask for help. It can also lead to quitting support groups and not worrying about cultivating a safe environment. These mistakes could lead to disaster if the individual experiences a trigger or craving. Don’t assume you no longer need your recovery plan. Do not put yourself in risky situations. Remind yourself that drug addiction is a chronic disease. It can return at any moment. Keep up with your relapse prevention program and don’t get too confident in your abilities to resist the pull.
Initially, the road to recovery can seem like a lonely place. You might have had to cut off ties with your old friends because they don’t support your new lifestyle. Your drug addiction might have severed relationships with family members. Social isolation, however, is a choice. Plenty of people in your community have things in common with you – including a past drug addiction. Make the choice to connect with others and to develop new, healthy relationships. Otherwise, feelings of loneliness and isolation could cause you to use again.
Join a recovery group near you and attend regular meetings. Engage in activities such as the creative arts to meet new people and improve your intellectual wellness. Join online chat groups and go to events in your community. Fight off social isolation by making new friends who support your decision not to do drugs. Planning social get-togethers such as movies or bowling a few times a month will allow you to connect with friends in a manner that will not act as a trigger. If possible, restore your relationships with family members for their support as well.