Therapists Explain Relapse Triggers


The path to recovering from addiction is not easy. It’s inevitable to encounter obstacles such as triggers. Triggers are specific cues that bring about negative memories, emotions, or feelings that lead to a relapse. Though these may not immediately cause the person to go back to their toxic ways, they increase the likelihood of this occurrence. Studies by therapists have shown that individuals experience distress from uncontrollable drug or alcohol cravings when they have exposure to specific cues or triggers.

Different types of triggers may cause a relapse in an individual. The different types of triggers are as follows.

External Triggers

External triggers are people, places, experiences, and objects that bring up their cravings. It reignites their desire to abuse drugs or substances again without being fully aware of it. A patient in recovery must steer clear of anything that reminds them of their previous lifestyle.


External triggers are usually people. They can be different individuals involved in the patient’s abusive lifestyle. These include the following:

  • Former drug dealers
  • Friends
  • Co-workers
  • Family members
  • Romantic partners
  • Neighbors
  • Enemies

Places can also be high-risk triggers. Specific places can include the following:

  • Neighborhoods
  • Bars or clubs
  • Past homes/apartments
  • Concerts
  • Hotels
  • Former drug stash locations
  • Bathrooms

Simple objects in an individual’s environment may also induce triggers. The most common object triggers are the following:

  • Paraphernalia
  • Movies
  • Television
  • Cash/ATMs/credit cards
  • Pill bottles
  • Furniture
  • Magazines

Situations are also high-risk triggers that remind individuals of their former lifestyle. Most social situations become difficult for recovering patients because the people and places they may encounter can tempt the individual to go astray. The most common situational triggers are the following:

  • Listening to specific music
  • Going out to dance/eat/socialize
  • Driving
  • Phone calls
  • Meeting new people
  • Anniversaries
  • Holidays
  • Family gatherings


Internal Triggers

Internal triggers are complex emotions associated with drug or substance abuse. Thus, they are more challenging to avoid. They’re within an individual’s psyche and can lead to the deterioration of the recovery process in such a way that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Internal triggers can be what trumps the patient’s progress, and exposure to specific emotions can lead to relapse.

The most common emotions that are associated with internal triggers are the following:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Hate
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Guilt
  • Insecurity
  • Pressure
  • Neglect
  • Passion
  • Sexual arousal

Stages Of Relapse

Relapses occur in three stages, namely, emotional, mental, and physical. Individuals who fail to resist their cravings may fall back into this state of abuse.

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse is a stage of denial, wherein individuals have little to no thoughts of using just yet. The signs of emotional relapse are the following:

  • Withholding emotions
  • Social isolation
  • Avoiding help
  • Focusing on other people’s problems
  • Poor sleeping or eating habits

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is the stage wherein the individual’s mind conflicts with itself. He or she wants to abuse a specific substance, but he or she is also aware that he or she shouldn’t. It may result in a one-time use, wherein the individual rationalizes his or her giving in to his or her urges.

The signs of mental relapse are the following:

  • Glamorizing former use of substances
  • Remembering people, places, or objects linked to an old lifestyle
  • Bargaining with self and those involved in recovery
  • Lying
  • Plotting or planning how to use again
  • Actively seeking relapse opportunities
  • Collecting money to afford substances
  • Planning a relapse itself

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is when the individual has finally succumbed to cues from his or her former lifestyle. Mental and emotional relapses culminate to this stage. It begins with the first lapse, where the individual initially takes a drink or uses drugs. It then intensifies into uncontrolled abuse.

Most instances of physical relapse happen when the patient sees a window of opportunity. They think being capable of stopping themselves just before committing the first lapse is enough. But the temptation is most potent at this stage. Thus, what they need is professional help in coping.

Managing Triggers During Recovery

Relapse happens gradually. During recovery, it’s crucial to pinpoint an individual’s triggers from the very beginning of the process. The chances of preventing it are highest at the earliest stage. Thus, you must cultivate a healthy and clean environment for him or her to be free from reminders of his or her former lifestyle.

It may be challenging to identify specific situations, memories, or feelings, but it’s still best to know every detail. Seek professional help to bring out these specific cues without triggering an individual into relapse.

Managing triggers can range from an object in your, shows that will play on the TV, or events coming up in the family. It’s essential to keep a lookout for any person, situation, or object that an individual can encounter.