Understanding Addiction Relapse Triggers
Addiction relapse triggers: Quitting an addiction should always be understood as a process rather than an accomplished goal. If you are an addict who has overcome your addiction, the job is not finished. The effects of a long-held addiction are likely to be deeply attached to many aspects of your life, including your emotional, mental, environmental, and social levels.
One of the causes that can restart your addictive habit is termed as “addiction relapse triggers”. This can be understood as a phenomenon that occurs when an alcoholic, for example, goes back to the habit of drinking again after a period of abstinence. What makes a relapse occur is the influence of a trigger or group of triggers that drive you right back into your addiction.
These addiction relapse triggers can exist in many forms, but they are also varied enough to range from very obvious triggers to subtle triggers that escape your attention. Visiting the location that is associated strongly with habits of gambling or drinking will obviously draw you in emotionally, creating addictive cravings that lead you to try it “just one more time”. Whereas seeing an advert that promotes what you drink in excess might take you by surprise, playing on your mind until you submit to frustration.
The ability to quit an addiction is achievable for most people. It is usually your surrounding emotional issues, conflicting habits and lack of self-management skills that create triggers that are difficult to resist or subdue. This is why many addicts return to their addictions; you are unaware that your life is littered with triggers and problematic situations for which you have not developed a recovery plan.
With the help of a qualified professional, you can work together to treat the many issues that surround your addiction and identify your personal addiction relapse triggers. Through this process, you can then establish which ones you are ready to confront and which ones you should avoid until you have dealt with the background issues that might destabilise you when you are outside of the rehabilitation centre.
Some of the more common addictions include alcoholism, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, gambling, video Games, sex, pornography, food, Painkillers, benzodiazepines, and tobacco. There is a growing list of obsessions and compulsions related to modern lifestyles. They are commonly, and in many cases, mistakenly referred to as addictions. This list includes eating disorders, work, television (especially celebrity gossip and reality TV), internet, exercise, mobile phone usage, teeth whitening, retail therapy (or shopping addiction/oniomania), tanning (tanorexia), plastic surgery, coffee, chocolate, Facebook, junk food, beauty products, hoarding and checking finances.
Addiction Relapse Triggers
Listed below are some of the most common addiction triggers that are likely to cause a relapse.
Contrary to popular belief, the bad and tragic times associated with your addictions are not the strongest triggers to cause your relapse; it’s the good times that deceive you best and weaken your resistance. Think back to the experiences where you achieved something special and your addictive substance symbolised your celebration. Was this when your self esteem was soaring and you had the best fun with your drinking partners? Or did the achievement inspire the gambling activities which drove your adrenaline and excitement to the highest levels as you played your riskiest bets and won the games, giving you another euphoric “high”?
When you have quit your addiction for months and restricted your sources of pleasure, these “good times” cravings can return to seduce you for one more mood lift like they did in the old days. It’s seducing because it’s during this period that it seems so unlikely that you will to go back to your addiction now.
Then consider how your brain physiology is so susceptible to the imprint of these joyful memories because it formed deep attachments to higher levels of dopamine during the long periods of your addiction. You cannot deprive yourself of good times, but caution needs to given to how you manage your mood variations, finding new ways to celebrate and new ways cope with your emotion lows.
Places can make incredibly strong connections to your memories, whether they are negative or positive. Even people and objects inside these places act as relevant triggers to the emotions that you have experienced there. Just seeing a single picture can create a wave of negative emotions about a tragic loss or past abuse, whilst the location of your friend’s house can be linked to excitement and fun of wild parties. Even though these location-based triggers are below the level of your consciousness, your addictive behaviour can come to the surface and control your decision-making when you step through the door. It doesn’t take long for the addiction tide to pull you in, only to wake in the morning regretting that you have once again binged on several bottles of beer during the previous night, despite your strong motivation to commit to the recovery plan. And when you revisit the location that you associate with past drug use for example, the environmental trigger rapidly unsettles you. This is because the wiring between your reward centre and memory part of your brain has been welded, raising your expectation to use the drug.
For some time to come, your way out is an uncompromising avoidance to all of these places. If you are surrounded by these triggering places and people (e.g. you take drugs in your family home), continuing support with your therapist will help you maintain control until you are ready to confront your location-based addiction relapse triggers again.
Stress is a constant feature of modern living and the way that you manage it is important for you to feel emotionally balanced. When stress is managed poorly, it can lower your mood and influence anxious and depressive thinking. Additional adrenaline in your system caused by stress inhibits the production of dopamine, something that an addict’s brain has been hard-wired to expect and satisfy on demand from your addictive behaviour. Effective stress management is the key to long-term success in your addiction recovery. As your therapist establishes your emotional profile, stress management techniques will be individualised to help you develop new habits to reduce your stress.
Stress is often considered to be having excessive demands, but a lack of demands can also be stressful if you find it hard to cope with boredom. When you are bored for long periods your time becomes meaningless and you will fill it with whatever is easily available in that moment. Boredom is a major trigger for habits and addictions, and needs to be managed with setting and working towards achievable and realistic goals.
H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired)
HALT is an acronym for some of the states that are considered high risk situations and can make you an easy victim to relapse. According to Ego Depletion theory, when hunger, anger, loneliness or tiredness reaches an excess, your willpower to confront your addictive urges is weakened and you will seek immediate comfort. If your comforting strategy is not rehearsed, you are more likely to find comfort in your addiction.
Understanding your own ego and when you are vulnerable to its depletion can help you to take charge of these (and other) excess negative states from overwhelming you. Giving attention to the common healthy lifestyle areas (e.g. eating healthily, managing stress, maintaining social interaction, exercising regularly and sleeping well, practising meditation etc.) are key to preventing relapse from a depleted ego.
Negative emotions from the bad times are at the heart of addictive behaviour and impaired dopamine production. You may have to go back further than the first day that your addictive behaviour kicked off to appreciate this connection. Anxiety, neglect, abuse, betrayal, worthlessness and insecurity are just some of your childhood influences that have created a pathway of dependency. When you found your addictive escape, it temporarily numbed the pain. It was easier than challenging authority figures or trawling back through your emotional history to resolve it. Your “high” remains the reactive mechanism to similar emotions that you feel in your life now. When confronted by negative emotions to resolve, you are tempted to reach for the quick fix because the pain still runs deep.
Gradual exposure to these emotions and their solutions are huge strides to make for someone whose “solution history” is marked by addictive retreat. Embracing the other road is effortful but with therapeutic support, it’s a journey that changes your behaviour and the past emotions that connect them.
Over-confidence is one of the most dangerous addiction relapse triggers that betray you into believing that your addiction no longer exists. Just when you think that you are over it and months (or years) have gone by, you become complacent. Over-confidence deceives you that it’s fine to quit your relapse prevention plan and test the “I’m over it” hypothesis. “Just one more time…” can seem like a reward for all of your efforts and repairs that you have made. And then you realise how foolish you have been and you are back inside your addiction chains again!
Don’t confuse over-confidence with self confidence. With self confidence, you accept that your addiction is a chronic disease and your recovery is a life-long process; you choose never to want “just one” ever again. With self confidence, you embrace your commitment to this choice.
The attention from a new relationship can be hard to resist, but new relationships can come loaded with emotional rebounds that are likely to jeopardise your recovery plan. Rehabilitation programs are very aware of these risks and advise staying clear of new relationships for at least a year during recovery.
So why would rehabilitation programs advise this? Any recovery plan demands commitment and your commitment to it can waiver when the honeymoon period of a relationship is in full swing and the excitement of it can be so seducing. Moreover, this relationship phase is so euphoric that it can deceive you into believing that your new partner’s special attention is a sign of your addiction treatment cure. It’s as if your addiction high has been replaced with a relationship high, without the necessary time to naturally balance these changes.
After a few months, when this honeymoon phase settles down, all of those normal things like arguing and temporary break-ups generate mood changes that need open communication to fix them. If your partner isn’t ready to communicate a solution, then anger, resentment, jealousy, loneliness and abandonment fears can drive your stability downwards. During those emotional lows, you will seek immediate relief from your addiction.
There are many individual and social addiction relapse triggers that can compromise your “clean” intentions. A social situation where your addictive substance is the main event is undoubtedly a risk to your recovery and needs to be avoided in the early stages due to the pressure of social compliance.
When you look back on your addictive pathway, peer pressure may have been the factor to start your addiction and it continues to be your vulnerability when you fear offending a close friend’s offer of another “hit”. Even without an offer from a friend, just being surrounded by your peers who are under the influence (when you are not participating) can cause you to feel lonely and alienated from the surrounding social mood and force your relapse.
And social unease can still be your weakness even when you are with acquaintances, colleagues or strangers who are not addicts. You may struggle to blend in with them and then feel the pressure to look as if you are having a good time. A quick hit can momentarily take the edge off your social anxiety.
If you are convinced that your addiction is the source of your “better self” or your social confidence, you may believe that you need it to be “the life and soul of the party” and without your substance, you are inadequate, dull and a “nobody”.
How you believe that your addiction defines your self esteem and social esteem is an essential part of your recovery treatment. When you have worked through these issues, a return to your social life is no longer a threat to your recovery.
Reminiscing Times of Addiction
The reason that your addiction gained power over you is because at some level you gave it a reward. It convinced you that it numbed the pain of abuse or control, gave you an escape from depression or anxiety, or relieved the stress from work. You persisted with it until the need for it became automated. Then the balance changed. It took over and became the problem that controls you. It destroyed the relationships and situations that are important to you.
In your mind it needs to stay loathed with all memory traces of the addiction’s glory completely eliminated. Only then can you be free from it. But there’s an internal danger to its security; it’s called reminiscing. Reminiscing is also known as replaying the “good old times” where you glamorise your addictive past, boasting about how much more you could “use” compared to your peers and of the power it gave you.
When your mood is low and you are searching for a way out of a problem, the frustration can put you into a daze. You are doing what is natural though, delving into the depths of your subconscious mind to access a solution. You are entering a reflective state of “self-talk” that some would call self hypnosis. When your resolve is strong, your internal voice will reject your romantic past with your substance. When you are down, reminiscing the times of addiction can seem like an attractive activity. Without developing assertive thinking however, it will be a trigger to a relapse.
Learning to stay firm with your intentions is an essential part of your treatment. When you can access an assertive and positive thinking attitude, it takes charge of how you handle those situations. It also guides your mental rehearsals and reflections when you are away from the situations. Learning to take control of your mind will help you eliminate fondly thinking about your past addiction as a glorious period in your life. You will reframe your addiction’s past as a betrayal that it deserves.
Many of the social pressures that can cause your addiction to relapse are listed above in “social settings”. On the opposite end of the continuum is social isolation. Having your own space is important but the mix needs to be applied effectively to avoid loneliness, as this can be another one of the many addiction relapse triggers. Shy introverts are justified to argue a case for avoiding some social interaction, with the degree of social anxiety that you experience, but consider if your addiction has really become your substitute best friend.
Developing self confidence and self worth is an important part of your recovery and this pursuit needs to be placed in the context of welcoming enough external help to support your recovery. During times of social isolation, you can reinforce your negative state of mind. Strong feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, blame, depression and embarrassment then drive you back into your cycle with no positive disruption from others to pull you out of it. Developing a close network of trustful friends can offer you this help, regardless of how much you might view the support of others as a reminder of controlling behaviour from previous authority figures.
Another source of loneliness assistance outside of this friendship circle is the help from your addiction support group. It allows you the opportunity to share experiences and manage situations with those who have similar backgrounds, but in a non-judgemental framework. You can also gain valuable insights into the destruction that other addicts have suffered in their journey, helping you to place your own experiences into a social context. As another benefit of support meetings, it’s natural to form acquaintances and friendships from these support meetings too.
You may personally prefer to avoid group meetings or think that you have exhausted all of the benefits from attending previous addiction support meetings. Individual therapy can still help you to challenge your own negative self limiting beliefs and moderate some feelings of social isolation.
Returning to the situations where you have previously accessed your substance should be avoided during the early stages of your treatment. In these early stages, the trigger is often too strong and complex, and is likely to cause your relapse.
As your therapy progresses, your therapist will help you deal with the surrounding issues and set up a controlled exposure plan to confront those situations again. So if social situations are your vulnerability, treating your self confidence and social confidence is fundamental to the re-exposure of social situations. Your treatment will prepare you to engage with social situations in controlled stages, dealing with craving control and specific relapse issues that are contained in the situation.
Avoidance of these situations can last for a period of months because even though you may believe that you are ready, there’s usually more therapeutic and developmental work to be done before you can confidently confront those situations without feeling vulnerable.
Addiction Relapse Triggers: Summary
In summary, the achievement of quitting an addiction is already a great milestone, but it doesn’t end there. Being aware of and treating the issues that surround your addiction are important stages of your continued recovery. It takes time to dissociate these triggers with the reward of using your substance and reconnect it with the new reward of abstinence.
As you embrace your therapy plan, understand that these triggers are not only diverse and complicated, but also very unique to your specific physical, mental, emotional disposition and life experiences. Your commitment to your therapy will help you identify key techniques and management tools to prevent a relapse.
There are many therapeutic approaches. Hypnotherapy can help you disconnect the triggers to your addiction and anchor new and positive responses to these triggers. Hypnotherapy can also treat the surrounding psychological issues which influence a relapse.