Navigate Your Relapse Risk of People, Places, and Things

How to be aware of and Create an Action Plan to Successfully Navigate Your Relapse Risk of People, Places, and Things

You will probably experience relapse triggers which are usually comprised of people, places, and things.  Relapse triggers hide in social, environmental, and emotional situations that remind you of your substance use and they awaken urges and cravings to use.  These cravings are closely related to your triggers and can make resisting the urge to use hard to overcome.

Some triggers can come from the external stimuli associated with your substance use.  Your external triggers may even be subconscious, and hard to identify.  Subconscious cues are dangerous because they reinforce the desire to use drugs without awareness. To avoid unconscious activation, having a plan in place to deal with people, places, and things that remind you of the experiences you had while using your substance of choice is important.

It is an important part of your recovery to create an action plan that addresses your triggers.  An action plan is made in advance of cravings and urges, that you can rely on in tempting situations. Substance use may have started initially within a social setting.  Your social circle, the people you are closest with maybe those triggers that lead to relapse.  Be vigilant in creating an action plan for people who may become triggers.  Some people triggers might include:

  • Former drug dealers
  • Friends and co-workers that have used with you
  • Family members, spouses, or partners that use or who create emotional triggers that lead you to relapse

Places can also be triggering for those in recovery.  A high risk and triggering place may be where you engaged in substance use.  Finding yourself in places that are familiar and flooded with memories of your substance use can make it hard to fight against urges and abstain from use.  Be prepared for these triggers and actively plan routes and action plans that allow you to avoid high-risk places.  Some high-risk places might include:

  • Neighborhoods where you have scored your drug of choice
  • Bars and clubs that trigger memories of your drug use
  • Frequently visited places such as your workplace, freeway exits, bathrooms, or school
  • Former drug stash places

Things can also be triggering.  Exposure to the things that you relate to your substance use may negatively influence your behavior and make it harder to resist the impulse and cravings, leading to relapse.  These things should be considered when creating your recovery action plan.

  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Furniture that is associated with substance use
  • Cash, credit cards, and ATMs

Social situations may be a combination of some or all of your triggers.  Some high-risk social situations might include:

  • Concerts
  • Meeting new people
  • Listening to a particular music genre
  • Going out afterwork with co-workers
  • Dating
  • Being alone
  • Anniversaries
  • Intimacy
  • Money problems
  • Holidays
  • Family

Internal, emotional triggers may prove to be more challenging to manage than external triggers.  Internal triggers stem from your feelings, thoughts, and emotions that may have initially driven you to use substances.  It is imperative to your recovery success that you expect to feel a myriad of emotions and create a plan in advance for how you will deal with them.  These emotional internal triggers can be negative or positive and may include:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt or shame
  • Frustration and irritation
  • Hurt and loneliness
  • Celebratory feelings
  • Confidence
  • Happiness
  • Depression
  • Shame
  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of inadequacy and overwhelm

How can you protect yourself against these triggers that can potentially send you into a spiral of relapse?  Be aware of and be able to recognize your triggering feelings by asking yourself some searching questions like:

  • How do I feel before using?
  • How do I feel after using?
  • How do I want to feel?

Being aware of your internal triggers and creating a plan of action on how to manage them, allows you to know when you need to ask for support.

Though triggers are real, they don’t necessarily lead to relapse right away.  There are stages of relapse which include emotional, mental, and physical relapse.  Recovery relapse comes after a long-fought battle clinging to abstaining and finally succumbing to rationalizing reasons for your addictive behavior.

Emotional relapse results from:

  • Holding back your emotions
  • Isolating yourself from your support network
  • Unhealthy lifestyle
  • Avoiding your 12 step meetings

When experiencing emotional relapse, you are encouraged to identify your areas of denial and focus on daily habits that foster healthy self-care.

Mental relapse is the white-knuckle fight between cravings and knowing you shouldn’t use.  Justifying substance use ‘just this one time’ is dangerous and can lead you to a full-blown relapse.  Some signs of mental relapse might include:

  • Substance cravings
  • Obsessive thoughts of those people, places, and things that are associated with your substance use
  • Glamorizing the ‘good old days’ of your substance use
  • Lying and bargaining

The stage of physical relapse is when you give in to your cravings, thoughts, and emotions and start using again.  This stage of relapse, where the decision is made to give in and use, usually comes with the false belief that you can control your use and using this ‘one time’ will cause no harm.

Identifying your triggers, recognizing the early warning signs, and using your action plan of healthy coping skills and support, is the key to thwarting a potential relapse.  Take the time to consider these questions when developing your action plan:

  • How do I feel about an upcoming event or situation, does thinking about it create thoughts of use or cravings?
  • When I find myself in situations that prompt cravings, is it ok for me to remove myself and leave?
  • Have I removed any paraphernalia and drugs that would make it easy for me to use?
  • What support person(s) can I call to help me remove items that remind me of my former life of drugs
  • How might I avoid people I have used with or bought drugs from?
  • How might I avoid places that I associate my drug use with?
  • What can I say to refuse drugs and remove myself from a situation when someone is encouraging my drug use?

Knowing what your triggers are allows you to devise a plan on how to manage them.  You have likely developed behaviors and justifications around your substance use.  You may have isolated yourself from your family and friends, or created reasons why using is ok.  It is time to develop healthy habits to replace the negative, self-destructive behaviors of substance use.  To create awareness and new behaviors for the healthy, new you, ask yourself some or all of the following questions.

  • What is my default coping mechanism for stuffing my feelings?
  • What are the benefits and risks of isolation from my support system?
  • How can I frame situations in a way that allows me to abstain from substance use?
  • How can I encourage myself to remain present instead of justifying and avoiding the risks of substance use?
  • What is my ‘go to’ coping mechanism to avoid difficult and painful situations?
  • What are some positive substitute behaviors that are healthier for me?

Your relapse action plan is a written plan that will help you recognize the signs of relapse, avoid your triggers, and prevent a relapse. Get your sponsor or trained therapist to help you create a written relapse action plan that might include:

  • A detailed plan to help you initiate self-care
  • Techniques to deal with urges and cravings
  • A list of people you can reach out to for support
  • The earlier people in recovery can identify and successfully respond to triggers, the greater their chances of prolonged abstinence and having your action plan in place is crucial.

If a relapse happens, focus on your response to it rather than fixating on the relapse itself. Most likely, you already know why it happened. Reaching out to your support system rather than hiding it allows you to learn from it and move forward in your recovery instead of being hindered by it.

There are several ways you can work to stop a relapse if you feel one coming.

  • When you have cravings, distract yourself with other activities until the cravings pass
  • Know your triggers, recognize them, and actively avoid them
  • Ground yourself with meditation
  • Exercise regularly
  • Ask a friend, sponsor, or treatment professional for help

The earlier people in recovery can identify and successfully respond to triggers, the greater their chances of prolonged abstinence. Having your recovery action plan in place is crucial.  Relapse is not the end of your recovery and having a relapse action plan doesn’t mean you will relapse. An action plan helps minimize the relapse damage and provides a plan to get you back on track.

You can overcome your substance use with help from our Texas treatment center. Addiction doesn’t have to control your life. Are you ready to change your life? Contact us and let us get you on the road to recovery. Call Healing Springs Ranch today at 866-656-8384.