The Old Patterns: 5 Triggers That May Cause a Relapse Into Alcoholism

Getting sober is hard, and the challenge doesn’t end when the last drop of alcohol leaves people’s systems. For years, decades, or even a full life after getting sober, recovering alcoholics are still at risk of a relapse. Most people are at the highest risk when they encounter what are known as triggers.

Triggers are events or experiences that remind alcoholics of drinking or place them in situations where it is more difficult to say no. Everyone’s triggers are different. Read on to find out about the top five triggers that may lead to a relapse to learn how to avoid them.

Extreme Stress

Many alcoholics start drinking in an effort to cope with the stresses of daily life. Attending an inpatient program someplace like Harris House gives recovering alcoholics the opportunity to get sober in a clean, warm, and stress-free environment, but getting back to normal life can be tough.

There’s no avoiding all stress, but recovering alcoholics can develop healthier coping mechanisms for dealing with it. Things like mindfulness and relaxation training can help, as can exercise and maintain a healthy diet. Improving time management can also alleviate stress by ensuring that there’s no need to operate in full-blown panic mode.

Familiar Places

There’s a reason it’s rare to see a recovering alcoholic who is on the right track sitting at a bar. Going to familiar places associated with past drinking can trigger alcoholic relapses, but it’s not always possible to completely avoid these places. While it’s relatively easy to walk past the entrance to the bar, it’s more difficult to avoid places like family members’ homes or restaurants that serve alcohol.

Recovering addicts need to anticipate possible reactions to revisiting places they used to frequent when they still drank. They should come up with a plan for managing their cravings in advance. Try using deep breathing exercises to calm the cravings or, if all else fails, have an exit plan for getting out of triggering situations.

Certain people can also act as triggers. Avoiding this problem isn’t a simple matter of not hanging out with friends who drink during the early stages of recovery. Interactions with unsupportive family members, coworkers, and other community members or people who still drink can also trigger alcoholic relapses, but positive affirmation therapy can help alcoholics develop a sense of self that allows them to better deal with criticism and peer pressure alike.

Challenging Emotions

Alcoholics frequently use drinking as a way of managing or avoiding challenging emotions. While the relief obtained from drinking is temporary, the negative feelings that prompt people to drink may continue well into sobriety. Like stress, grief, loneliness, and low self-esteem can all pop up in the course of normal life, so it’s important to have a plan in place for dealing with them.

The first step toward coming up with more effective coping mechanisms is to learn how to recognize negative emotions. Being able to put a label on them and acknowledge them can help to put a stop to the automatic responses they create, such as the urge to drink. Keep a journal to track thought patterns and find strategies like yoga, deep breathing, or just carrying a worry stone that can redirect thoughts and behaviors when challenging emotions to come up.

Encounters with Alcohol

Just smelling alcohol can trigger a strong, immediate response in recovering alcoholics, especially during early recovery. It’s best to avoid situations where a lot of people are likely to be drinking, at least at first, but it’s impossible to avoid alcohol entirely. Practice saying no and celebrate each turned down the drink as a minor victory.

Many alcoholics develop what are known as substitute behaviors. Instead of accepting an adult beverage, they might ask for a drink of water or soda. Substitute behaviors don’t have to be other, non-alcoholic drinks. They could be relaxation techniques or even conversational redirects.

Times of Celebration

Not all relapse triggers involve negative situations or direct contact with alcohol. Many recovering alcoholics find that the holidays are uniquely difficult times because, not only are most people drinking, the whole idea of a celebration tends to bring to mind memories of getting drunk.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many recovering alcoholics who are having a good time out at a party are lulled into a false sense of security

This problem is compounded by the fact that many recovering alcoholics who are having a good time out at a party are lulled into a false sense of security. They may think that given they’re in a good mood and feeling in control, it’s okay to have just one drink. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.

One drink can quickly turn into many drinks, so resist the urge to take unnecessary risks. The best way for recovering alcoholics to deal with triggers at parties or celebrations is to find a sober buddy they trust and respect. The designated person can step in if he or she sees others trying to offer drinks and gently persuade his or her friend that having a glass of champagne isn’t worth risking a relapse.

Having a trusted friend on-hand can make it easier to manage relapses and do damage control, as well. Instead of being judgmental, the person should firmly persuade his or her friend to stop drinking after one drink or, if need be, leave the party. A minor relapse put to a quick stop by a friend is much easier to manage than a full-blown relapse handled alone.

The Bottom Line

Living a sober, intentional life can be incredibly rewarding but it can also be challenging for those who experience frequent alcoholic triggers. Those in recovery should resist the temptation to isolate themselves completely in an effort to avoid triggers. Instead, they should seek support from loved ones, attend individual or group counseling sessions to learn new coping strategies, and try to maintain a positive attitude conducive to enjoying sobriety.

It’s common for recovering alcoholics to continue receiving either formal or informal treatment for years and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not only can long-term rehab services help alcoholics learn how to live their best lives sober, but it also gives them the chance to connect with and help others who are struggling with similar problems.

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