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  • Like many other diseases, drug addiction (also called substance use disorder) is treatable. However, even after receiving addiction treatment, some people relapse (start using drugs again).

    Most relapses occur due to triggers. A trigger is any type of stimuli that makes you want to use drugs again. Here are some of the most common relapse triggers and how to manage them.

    1. Painful Emotions

    Many people abuse drugs to cope with stress, grief, and other painful feelings. While drugs may temporarily make you feel better, they worsen your mental health in the long run. That’s why it’s important to learn healthy ways to manage your emotions. 

    Expressive Activities

    For example, you could express your feelings in a journal. You could also try an expressive, creative activity like painting, writing, or playing an instrument. 


    In addition, many people deal with emotional pain by meditating. This practice can help you understand and accept unpleasant emotions so you don’t feel tempted to numb them with drugs.


    To learn more healthy coping skills, consider attending therapy. 

    One of the most popular types of therapy for people recovering from addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During CBT, a therapist helps you identify and challenge unhelpful beliefs that worsen your emotional state and cause drug cravings. 

    2. Relationship Problems

    Everyone experiences relationship conflict at one point or another. Some people try to ignore these conflicts by turning to drugs. When you’re recovering from addiction, even a small argument could lead you to relapse. 

    Handle Conflict In Healthy Ways

    To overcome this trigger, you must learn how to handle conflict in a healthy, productive way. 

    Instead of lashing out at a loved one you disagree with, calmly explain how you feel and then let your loved one explain how they feel. A therapist can help you practice these skills in couples or family therapy.

    3. Celebrations

    Weddings, holiday parties, and other celebrations often feature alcohol or other drugs. That’s why many people in addiction recovery find these events triggering. 

    If you’re worried that a celebration may cause you to relapse, consider turning down the invitation. While you might not want to disappoint the person who invited you, your health should be your main priority. 

    Reduce Your Risk Of Relapse

    You could also accept the invitation but take steps to reduce your risk of relapse. For instance, you could:

    • bring a sober friend so you feel less alone 
    • bring your own non-alcoholic drinks so you can more easily refuse any alcohol that’s offered to you
    • designate a calm, safe area you can go to if you start to feel triggered

    4. Mental Illness

    Many people with addiction also have other mental health conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or schizophrenia. They often start abusing drugs to self-medicate their symptoms. 

    When you seek treatment for your addiction but not your other mental illnesses, you face a high risk of relapse. 

    Take Care Of Your Mental Health

    To lower the risk of relapse, take care of your mental health. For example, you could go to therapy, attend support groups, take medications, and practice self-care activities such as:

    • eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods
    • exercising on a regular basis 
    • getting at least seven hours of sleep per night
    • spending time with supportive loved ones

    5. Boredom

    Although boredom might not seem like a big deal, it’s a common cause of addiction relapse. That’s why you should fill your free time with healthy activities. 

    Revisit Hobbies & Find New Activities

    Revisit any hobbies you abandoned due to your addiction, and try some new activities as well. Popular options include:

    • reading
    • painting
    • drawing
    • writing
    • cooking
    • gardening
    • exercising
    • playing games

    You can also fight boredom by making plans with friends and family members who support your recovery.

    6. People You Used To Do Drugs With

    When you live with addiction, it’s normal to spend most or all of your time with other people who abuse drugs. Once you start the recovery process, you must end these relationships and build a healthy support system. 

    Leave The Situation & Engage In Healthy Activities

    However, even if you try to avoid the people you did drugs with, you might accidentally see them at some point. 

    In this case, it’s usually best to leave the situation and engage in a wellness activity such as journaling, meditating, or exercising. You could also attend the nearest support group meeting, where you can discuss your feelings with people who have had similar experiences.

    7. Reminders Of Your Drug Of Choice

    Throughout your daily life, you may encounter reminders of the drug or drugs you abused. These reminders often act as addiction triggers. 

    For example, a person with alcohol use disorder may be triggered by a beer advertisement. Similarly, someone addicted to nicotine might be triggered by the smell of cigarette smoke. 

    Prepare Relapse Prevention Skills

    Many of these triggers are unavoidable. That’s why you should prepare some relapse prevention skills to use if you encounter them, such as:

    • taking deep breaths
    • listing all the reasons you stopped using drugs in the first place
    • calling a friend for support

    If you or a loved one struggles with drug use, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our substance abuse treatment centers offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and a variety of other evidence-based services.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - How Much Sleep Do I Need?
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction
    United States Department of Health and Human Services - The Neurobiology of Substance Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on November 15, 2022
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