One of the defining characteristics of addiction is the inability to control drug or alcohol use despite efforts to do so. Thinking about that for a minute, that concept clearly illustrates how powerful drug addiction really is. It forces people to do something they absolutely know is destructive and have vowed not to do again. Why does this happen? That is a million dollar question.
Here is a suggested list of the top ten triggers for relapse that we have found in our patients, meant to be thought provoking, not definitive:
1. Being exposed to drugs or alcohol, putting oneself in a position where it is just a reach away.
2. Inability to handle emotions and feelings, particularly ‘negative emotions’, such as fear, anger, depression, stress and anxiety.
3. Complacency – Not following through on a program of recovery, your continuing care plan or positive growth, thinking you have ‘got it licked’.
4. Being in poor health or physical pain.
5. Misuse of prescription (and some over the counter) drugs. Your body simply knows it is a drug, not why it is taken.
6. Self-pity, or playing the victim role. Feeling ‘forced’ to stay sober, not accepting that you always have choices and that there are consequences/rewards to those choices.
7. Not knowing how to handle urges and cravings. You will have cravings. It is imperative you know how to ride them out without using drugs or alcohol.
8. Frustration. Many people with addiction have a low tolerance for discomfort or things not going their way. It is an unrealistic expectation to think everything will go your way all the time. Learn to handle frustration.
9. Boredom and isolation. Since substance use was the factor around which your life became organized, when you stop there is a tremendous void that needs to be filled with positive activities and growth.
10. Successes or positive events that make you want to celebrate.
Bonus Tip: Beware of the return of denial, any thought that seems to rationalize or make it OK to use; eg. ‘I wasn’t THAT bad, I’ve been clean for _______, so I proved I don’t have a problem, etc.