Learning to recognize relapse triggers and relapse warning signs in addiction recovery is critical. Triggers are sights, sounds, people, smells, places and things in general that remind the person in recovery of their drug of choice. Some cocaine addicts in recovery can see powder of any kind and begin craving cocaine. A recovering alcoholic can pass the wine section in a super market and think about the good times years ago when drinking was still pleasurable, even glamorous at times. A heroin addict can see an insulin needle and feel the rush of heroin in her veins. There are ways to deal with triggers. The craving they produce doesn’t last, if the person in recovery takes action to deal with the craving.
It’s suggested in treatment to have someone who’s in recovery to call when the compulsion of addiction is triggered. Just calling someone and talking about it often changes the feeling. Some people immediately leave the environment, go for a walk, think about the end-result consequences from using or drinking, exercise and burn up the energy — usually any kind of counter action will work — the main thing is to not let the craving linger, fantasizing about using or drinking.
Then there are warning signs of relapse. Sometimes the warning signs are more subtle than a trigger. The trigger is immediate and powerful, but the relapse warning signs might be difficult to recognize and understand — but it’s usually the unrecognized relapse warning signs that create triggers. Below is a list from Project Know: Understanding Addiction of warning signs that can lead to relapse:
- Frequenting old using grounds or hanging around drug-using friends
- Keeping drugs in your home for any reason
- Isolating yourself from friends or support groups
- Constantly thinking about using drugs
- Quitting therapy, skipping scheduled appointments, or veering away from your addiction treatment program
- Overconfidence or feeling as though you no longer need support
- Relationship conflicts
- Being too hard on yourself or setting impossible goals
- Abrupt or sudden changes in eating or sleeping habits, personal hygiene, or energy levels
- Feelings of confusion, depression, uselessness, anxiety, stress, or being overwhelmed
- Boredom or irritability, usually stemming from a lack of structure
- Refusing to deal with personal problems related to daily life events
- Replacing drugs with other obsessive behaviors such as gambling
- Major life changes that cause intense emotion such as grief, trauma, or extreme elation
- Thinking that “just one time” won’t hurt
- Physical illness or pain
Some of these changes in attitude and behavior are rationalized in recovery so that the person normalizes isolation, or blames others for conflict, or medicates feelings before trying counseling. If a person doesn’t understand the warning signs and doesn’t take actions to avoid relapse, the odds are the person will eventually use or drink again. It’s important to have a Recovery Management Plan, so that when the person in recovery or someone else recognizes the warning signs, action is taken. Its not a sign of failure when warnings appear — they happen to everyone. What’s important is taking action and doing something about them — avoiding relapse is the goal. Every time a person recognizes relapse warning signs and takes action to deal with the problem, they grow and become stronger in recovery.