Top 5 Triggers for Relapse and How to Manage Them Without Drinking


Relapse doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Though it may initially feel that way, upon reflection, most people can identify the trajectory of events and/or emotions that may have contributed to their urge to relapse and then eventually to ending up drinking or getting high.

Though relapse is a common part of recovery for many people trying to manage drug and alcohol dependence, it is not a necessary part of recovery. That is, it’s not unavoidable. With the proper precautions, people can minimize their risk of relapse and help to make sure that if they do slip, it doesn’t mean an inevitable return to active addiction.

Here are some of the common issues that can trigger the urge to relapse and what you can do instead to stay clean and sober no matter what.


The death of someone close to you can make you question everything – about yourself, the world, and your place in it. For people in recovery, especially those in early recovery, the pain associated with grief can feel overwhelming. Even people who are not in recovery and have a “normal” relationship with substances often ask how it’s possible to endure something of that nature without taking a drink or getting high, as if it’s an assumed part of the healing process.

But there are many who have lived through grief and loss without once picking up or even slipping. There are even those who have navigated the ups and downs of a divorce or other breakup, loss of friendship, and other significant similar experiences without relapse as well – and you can do it, too.

What to do: Lean on your support system – heavily. This is a good time to reach out to all those who you have connected with throughout your journey in recovery. Go to meetings. Talk to your therapist. Go out with other friends and family. Do not isolate. Though you may feel like curling up in a ball and seeing no one, this is not the time to be alone for long periods. Connect with others, talk through what you are feeling, and ask for help if you feel like picking up.

Cost of Addiction

Addiction can create serious financial issues, and those issues don’t just disappear after rehab. Many come out of rehab facing the debt they accrued during addiction, payments for treatment services, as well as a gap in their resume and/or a damaged reputation due to choices made in addiction that makes it difficult for them to find a job making what they were making before. Still others have legal issues that further complicate the ability to get and stay employed. It’s not easy to get back on track, but it is possible – and drinking or getting high will only make it worse.

What to do: Make a budget and make a plan. When you figure out what you need to make each month in order to cover your bills, you can make a plan as to how you will get that money. Put food on the table, pay your rent and utilities, and put gas in the car first, then pay the minimum payments on the rest of your bills. Work two part-time jobs if you can’t find a fulltime job to cover what you need, and sell everything you don’t need. If you have any extra, work on paying off your smallest debt until it’s gone, and then the next and the next, until your budget starts to loosen up. It will get better.


You may have worked your hardest to get a job, fix an important relationship, or accomplish another goal in recovery – and it didn’t work. Disappointment is the natural reaction when you put effort into something and it doesn’t unfold the way you hoped, but it doesn’t mean that you will never succeed in accomplishing your goal or that another goal isn’t actually more appropriate for you. You don’t have to give up.

What to do: Don’t allow yourself to sit in disappointment for too long. Assess the situation and determine whether or not you are better off seeking a new course of action or trying again. Either way, make an actionable plan to move forward and immediately get started.


Stress is an unavoidable and natural part of life. Especially in early recovery as you are working to establish yourself in your new life, there are numerous potential sources for stress: mending old relationships, creating new relationships, dealing with bills, healing physically and mentally, finding a stable place to live, and looking for a new job. Though people in active addiction often turn to drugs and alcohol in times of stress, those in recovery are better equipped to manage these issue using the coping skills they learned during treatment.

What to do: Lower your overall levels of stress by getting regular sleep, optimizing your nutrition so you are eating well and getting the right amount of calories for your needs, staying actively engaged with ongoing mental health treatment as well as the recovery community, and taking part in holistic treatment options that contribute to your ability to manage stress in the moment and lower ongoing levels of stress at the same time.

Untreated Mental Health Issues

If you are living with mental health symptoms – disordered eating habits, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, or mood swings – treatment is needed. If you did not undergo an evaluation and diagnosis at the beginning of mental health treatment during rehab, now is the time to start. Addressing those issues will significantly improve your ability to stay sober in all situations.

What to do: Talk to your therapist to get referrals for evaluation and diagnosis if your therapist is not qualified to perform those tasks, or reach out to your rehab program to discuss the best steps for you going forward in managing mental health issues.

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