The Most Common Relapse Triggers in Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a disease that will fight to stay alive. Unfortunately, relapse is common and is likely to happen during substance abuse recovery outside of the treatment center. However, there are ways for you to avoid relapse. The first step is simply being aware of what your personal relapse triggers might be. Once you figure that out, you can plan how you will manage issues as they arise. Typically, relapse triggers can be labeled as one of three types: mental triggers, environmental triggers, and emotional triggers. The following is a list of the most common addiction relapse triggers that you can prepare for and avoid during your addiction recovery.

Emotional Relapse Triggers

Emotional relapse is also known as the first stage of relapse. At this point, individuals that are in recovery from substance abuse, are experiencing feelings, both positive and negative, that can be precursors to repeated substance abuse.

Being Too Confident

This may come as a surprise, but being overconfident during your recovery is actually a huge relapse risk. Having confidence is important, but becoming overconfident may prompt you to feel like you don’t need a relapse prevention plan. As a result, you may find yourself in high-risk situations that could easily trigger a relapse. You can prevent this by keeping yourself in check and staying humble through the recovery process.

Entering Relationships Too Early On

It’s been proven that developing a new romantic relationship within the first year of recovery can be a major relapse trigger—one that most people tend to ignore. A new relationship during such a sensitive time is a bad idea for a couple reasons: 1) you could relapse after an emotional separation, or 2) you could develop an unhealthy dependence (a new addiction) on your partner. You can avoid this relapse trigger by simply avoiding romantic relationships during early recovery. 

Feeling Overwhelmed or Inadequate

There are plenty of times when you may get stressed out at work or feel like you’re competing with others. Taking over responsibilities at home and losing a job or a loved one can also take tolls on your mental health. 

However, people without substance abuse issues can take a step back during these difficult times and assess their situation, individuals in recovery may have trouble doing this. It is in these moments when you are most vulnerable and may think about turning to drugs or alcohol for comfort. Whenever you are doubting yourself or feel like you have too much on your plate, therapy can help you cope with your negative emotions. A therapist can also help you prioritize tasks.

Mental Relapse Triggers

When people go through mental relapse (the second stage of relapse), they are fighting a battle inside their heads. They have moved on from the negative feelings and thoughts of emotional relapse and have begun thinking about previous experiences associated with drug use. Below are a few typical mental relapse triggers.

HALT: Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Tiredness

HALT is one of the more common and well-known relapse triggers in addiction recovery. These sensations can bring about a desire for the drug you’re working so hard to quit. You can avoid HALT-triggered relapse by maintaining a solid routine that includes meal scheduling, support meetings and getting enough sleep.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are a major part of recovery. Mental conditions like anxiety and depression paired with physical pain or discomfort can trigger a relapse for even the most determined person in recovery. Staying open and honest with your doctor during recovery can help prevent relapse. Using non-addictive prescription drug alternatives to treat the withdrawal symptoms is also helpful.

Mental Illness

Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses can be major relapse triggers. Substance use disorders can often be influenced by these conditions. If you are experiencing negative thoughts, monitor them by journaling and talking to a therapist. Your medical professional may also suggest medication as a way to help treat symptoms of mental illness.

Environmental Relapse Triggers

These types of relapse triggers are related to your environment — people, places, and objects physically around you that can spark memories of substance abuse. Encountering these triggers can be unavoidable, but by identifying them early, you can know what to expect. 

Social Isolation

Your support system is one of the most important influences in your addiction recovery. If you isolate yourself from friends, family, and others in your support system, it becomes easy for you to rationalize your substance abuse and increases the chances of redeveloping substance dependence. Keeping in regular contact with your counselor or sponsor can help you avoid this relapse trigger.


Not all relapse triggers stem from something negative. In fact, positive changes are one of the most powerful relapse triggers there is. Getting a new job, a promotion or anything that prompts the need for celebration can feed the mentality that “using again, just this once, is fine.” In the event of a positive life change, be sure to plan ahead of time how you’ll celebrate so you can without drugs or alcohol. 


Certain locales can be relapse triggers, including hotels, bars and clubs, a friend’s house, and neighborhoods. If there was a particular place that you associated with substance abuse, such as a bathroom where you used to gather with old friends who used, revisiting it could be dangerous. If you’re feeling any temptations to come back to these haunts, call someone in your support system who can suggest an alternative activity.

Old Friends

Having a support system that includes friends and family is one of the main ingredients for a sober life. However, there are most likely people in your life who encouraged your substance abuse in the past, and you have most likely tried to avoid them. Unfortunately, you may come across situations in which you run into these people. To steer clear of these relapse triggers, make an effort to stay close with people in your support system who encourage your recovery and well being. You can also ask yourself if you have their phone numbers saved or how you can approach interacting with these friends if you run into them.


Exposure to TV shows, movies, magazines, and paraphernalia — items in our everyday lives — that are associated with drug or alcohol use can be high-risk relapse triggers. Even having access to credit cards and cash may reawaken old feelings and induce cravings. 

How Can I Prevent Relapse?

First, identify your relapse triggers by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How do I want to feel before using substances?
  • How did I feel in the past week when I used or wanted to use substances?
  • How do I feel before using substances?

Relapse triggers are unique to everyone. You can more easily identify the ones particular to you once you answer these questions.

Have a support system of family, friends, and loved ones who will stand by you when you need help. These kinds of positive influences will decrease your likelihood of relapsing. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will also keep you in a routine and make you less likely to stray into negative habits.

What if I Relapse Anyway?

Recovering from substance addiction is never easy, and the truth is, the risk of relapsing is always going to be there. Still, having a relapse prevention plan and recognizing your personal relapse triggers can drastically lower your chances of relapsing. If you still get caught up in a relapse even after doing all you can to avoid the triggers, don’t be discouraged. This doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you’ll never recover. Recovery is always possible even after a relapse, especially if you act right away to get your sobriety back on track.

Relapse Prevention Treatment at Discovery Institute

Relapse is most common in the early stages of sobriety, and this is when relapse prevention is the most important. Discovery Institute is dedicated to providing patients with the best treatment in conjunction with medical detox. Without proper relapse prevention, people in recovery can experience relapse triggers that are especially strong, and they are at higher risk of abusing substances again.

Our family therapy program helps repair relationships that have been marred by substance abuse. It also gives families insight into various relapse triggers, and it teaches them what to look out for during the first few months of sobriety.

Discovery Institute also offers individual therapy, coping skills development and implementation of recovery support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Some coping skills that are taught involve cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and meditation. These can help you banish old patterns for good and learn new ways of thinking.

With the right relapse prevention treatment, you will be on your way to a life free of drugs and alcohol and full of promise and contentment.

Learn to Recognize Your Personal Relapse Triggers at Discovery

At Discovery Institute, our team of professionals can help you gain some insight into how to recognize relapse triggers and what to do if you relapse after you’ve completed rehab and detox. If you have any questions or need additional treatment after a relapse, please contact us today.