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What Does it Mean to Relapse from Addiction Recovery?

A relapse in addiction recovery is when someone who has achieved short-term or long-term recovery starts abusing drugs and/or alcohol again. Relapsing could mean using the same substance, or different substances than someone originally abused. 

If someone relapses from addiction recovery, it does not mean treatment failed. Relapsing can look different for each person, just as recovery does. But there are a few common triggers that most relapses have in common. 

Understanding Relapse Triggers

A trigger in relapse is something that flips a switch in the recovering person. When triggers happen, it becomes difficult to continue on the path of recovery. It is important to understand what triggers are, and how to avoid them so the path to recovery can stay clear. 

There are several different types of triggers to be on the lookout for, but they mostly boil down to internal and external. Internal triggers are emotions, both negative and positive, as well as thoughts. External triggers are a little more complex because they are more out of someone’s control. External triggers can be people, places, and/or things that remind someone of using. 

Internal Triggers

We know that everyone has an internal dialogue. Sometimes that is thoughts of kindness towards themselves. Sometimes it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum, with self-hating feelings. 

There are a few common positive emotional triggers we can explore:

  • Confidence-Someone can be so confident in their ability to stay clean, that they stop working on their program.  
  • Happiness/Joy– While not seeming like a trigger, happiness could trigger someone to feel like they are not worthy of such a feeling, which can lead them to use it so they get back to their comfortable state.
  • Sexual Arousal/Passion– Strong emotions like passion or arousal change the hormonal balance in the brain, which could lead to uncomfortableness. The first thing a lot of recovering addicts want to do when they are uncomfortable is to use so they numb the undesirable feeling.
  • Excitement– Much like arousal, excitement is a very strong emotion that can cloud the brain and enhance feelings of chaos. Chaos feels like home to a lot of recovering addicts. 

Some examples of negative emotions common to relapsing addicts:

  • Anger: Unmanaged anger can be one of the most detrimental emotions to experience while in addiction recovery. It allows someone to feel completely out of control, which could easily leave someone wanting to use. 
  • Jealousy: Sometimes it could be jealousy around someone they are in a romantic relationship with. Other times it could be more like envy of something or a situation they would like to have. 
  • Shame/Guilt: Addicts tend to have an enormous amount of shameful feelings. These feelings can be regarding their past experiences or even their current thoughts.
  • Depression/Anxiety: Untreated depression and/or anxiety are triggering because it is a state of unbalanced emotions. 
  • Exhaustion: Lack of sleep can lead to self-neglect, which can cause someone to be more vulnerable to relapse. 

External Triggers

External triggers are those that are around us. They are the people, places, and things that could remind someone of their time of active addiction. 

Some examples of external triggers:

  • People: A person, or group of people someone spent time with during their days of using. It could be their old dealer, the bartender from their old favorite bar, or even just a checkout person at the grocery store where they used to buy wine. People are a huge trigger that is hard to control because we never know where we might run into someone. 
  • Places: Places are a little easier to control, because most of the time, we can choose where we go. But in those circumstances when it is beyond someone’s control, it can cause triggering feelings.
  • Objects: Objects are difficult because they could be anything and someone might not know it’s a trigger until they see it. It could be powdered sugar that reminds them of cocaine, or an empty prescription bottle in a friend’s trash can. 

Whether the triggers are internal or external, knowing what they are could be the difference in whether someone relapses or not. It is important to continue a program, be accountable to loved ones, and to practice a lot of self-care. 

What Happens After a Relapse?

A relapse can be devastating to recovering addicts, and their loved ones. But knowing that it’s not the end of the road, just a bump in it is the key to getting back to a healthy recovery. In fact, about 40%-60% of people in recovery relapse at some point in their recovery journey. 

The internal triggers of shame/guilt can turn the relapse into a long-term situation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting past those feelings, and admitting the relapse happened is the very first step in receiving help. 

What to do Next?

After admitting the relapse to their accountability partners, getting help is the next step. It can be scary to make that move, but it is also the best chance of long-lasting recovery. 

Calling Miracles Recovery Center in Port St. Lucie, FL is the easiest way to plan out the next steps. They offer Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP), Intensive Outpatient, and Outpatient levels of care. Miracles Recovery Center takes an integrated approach using a variety of therapeutic methods for addiction treatment.