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Never Saw It Coming: Top 7 Surprise Relapse Triggers to Avoid in Recovery

infographic on tips for building a plan to avoid relapse

If you have spent any time in treatment and addiction recovery, you have heard a lot about the big, obvious triggers for relapse. Spending time with old friends who are still using, going to bars and concerts where there is easy access to drugs and alcohol, avoiding treatment for mental health issues – all these issues receive a lot of attention during treatment and for good reason. Any one of them can undermine your ability to stay sober.

There are, however, a number of unexpected issues that can catch you off guard in recovery and trigger relapse. Here are just a few.

1. Windfall: It would be great to win the lottery or get a huge inheritance from a distant cousin you never knew you had, right? Maybe not. In recovery, having access to a large sum of money with no designated purpose can be dangerous. It can trigger the urge to throw out everything and start partying. Going to 12-Step meetings, attending therapy sessions, and engaging in the work of recovery may quickly fall to the wayside when you have a lot of money on hand out of nowhere.

You don’t have to win $1 million to be at risk. An unexpected $20 at the wrong time can feel like a sign to go get high if you don’t have a plan in place for what to do with unexpected cash.

2. Promotion: Getting a promotion at your job means that your hard work has been noticed and the powers that be see you as an asset they would like to keep and allocate more strategically. This is affirmation in recovery on a number of levels, but for some, the pressure to perform can be a trigger for relapse. It may happen with the offer of the new job, or it can build up over time as the responsibilities pile up. Either way, it’s a good idea to have a plan for how to deal with unexpected stress in recovery.

3. New love: Falling in love can be amazing, and if you are stable in recovery and find someone who is also sober or willing to support you 100 percent in your recovery, then it can be a great part of your life. However, there are about a thousand ways for dating in recovery to go so horribly wrong that it triggers a relapse. From liking someone more than they like you to having them dump you for no reason to cheating on you with your best sober friend and more, romance is more often the devil than a delight when you are trying to stay sober.

4. Travel: Got a great vacation planned? Make sure you’ve got a great plan in place to protect you from relapse. Not only can being in a foreign place where you know no one feel like a license to do what you want with impunity, it can also be a recipe for overdose. The potency of different drugs varies significantly in different regions, and it is not uncommon for people to overdose when they are traveling, especially after a period of sobriety.

5. Boredom: It isn’t always being in the midst of a party where everyone is drinking and getting high that triggers cravings for drugs or alcohol. Being bored at home with nothing to do can make you feel like your only option is to relapse, especially if you are not heavily invested in your sober community or working on finding positive ways to spend your time.

6. Confidence: Low self-esteem is certainly a risk for relapse, but so is having an exceptionally high confidence level. If you feel like nothing can bring you down in recovery and you can do whatever you want at no threat to your sobriety, you’re bound to prove yourself wrong.

7. Time off: When you decide to give yourself a break and skip a few 12-Step meetings, postpone therapy appointments, or stop taking your meds for any amount of time, you are no longer making progress in recovery and you are at risk of relapse. Persistent interactions with your sober community plus regular engagement with your therapeutic team are key to sustained sobriety.

The good news is that if you know that these are risks for relapse then you have the opportunity to see it coming and have a plan in place to support your recovery. How are you protecting yourself in recovery? How are you preparing to handle unexpected cravings for drugs or alcohol?