Statistics show that most people do not succeed at their first attempt at sobriety. Over 90% of all who will ever try to get clean and sober eventually relapse. So, only 10% of us will stay sober once we get sober. This is a very unfortunate statistic, considering the fact that addiction can be fatal if left untreated. But, fortunately, since relapse is such a common part of the recovery process, we know a good bit about it. And, knowledge is power.
We all may have different stories and backgrounds. But, as human beings, we share common feelings, fears, hopes, and anxieties. With that said, our triggers for relapse are likely to be very similar. There will always be that one dope man on the corner that only people in your neighborhood know of, but everyone has their own “dope man” they have to avoid. For some of us, that’s a doctor’s office– for others, a particular location, event, or even a smell.
Know your own relapse triggers. This may take a good amount of clean time to truly understand what it is that makes you want to use. That’s how it was for me. At first, just waking up was a trigger. But, then, I slowly started to notice there were specific reasons that I was self-medicating. But, the faster you’re able to know what triggers you, the better prepared you will be, and more likely to have long-term sobriety.
Most of us who have had any length of sobriety have probably heard the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. HALT is great to have in your back pocket. But there are more triggers than being hungry, angry, lonely, and tired.
Here are the top 5 relapse triggers:
1. Emotional Dysregulation
When your emotions are all over the map, you are very, very susceptible to relapse. One reason this is true is due to the lack of stability that comes along with mood swings. For instance, if I have a work party where alcohol is being served, and I go into the situation with instability, then I am basically asking for a relapse. More commonly, if I go to a work party where alcohol is being served and someone says something to me that is hurtful, and I take it incredibly personal, and cyclone into a fit of negative emotions and anger, how could I expect to stay sober? Emotional dysregulation leads to emotional instability. If you can’t predict your emotions, or have a way to regulate them, it will be very difficult to stay sober. Lack of emotional coping skills is a sure recipe for relapse.
2. Lack of Acceptance & Insight
If you are in a program of recovery, the word “acceptance” probably comes up quite often. There is a reason for that. If you aren’t able to accept your circumstances, or the “present,” then you are trying to change your present circumstances. In some cases, non-acceptance is a good thing. It can help you to remove toxic people from your life, or change your habits from unhealthy to healthy. But, not knowing what you can and cannot change is very important in this equation. If you most of your energy is spent trying to change things that cannot be changed– which are things out of your control– then you will not have much energy left to change things that you can control. This is also known as “living life on life’s terms.”
3. Break-Ups and Relationship Problems
Alcoholics Anonymous’s Big Book has a lot to say about sex and intimate relationships; it says that “many of us need an overhauling there–” that is in relation to sex. By the time most of us get sober, every type of relationship we have needs a good bit of work. But, especially our past and current intimate relationships. The Big Book states that “sex is a lust of our lower nature” (68). So, it should come as no surprise that break-ups are a large source of relapse. Perhaps this is because our “lower nature” is tampered with, I’m not really sure. But, I do know that any time an addict feels unloved, abandoned, rejected, or lonely, there is cause for concern. And, a break-up can create all of these feelings, at one time. So, one can surely see how a break-up or relationship problem can be a one-way ticket to relapse.
4. Holding Onto Resentments
We are all going to experience a resentment in sobriety. The question is not whether or not you will be resentful, but what do you do with your resentment? Do you stew on it for days, weeks, or months, and let it fester? Or, do you follow the suggestions laid out for you in the Big Book? Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual program, and resentment(s) shuts us off from experiencing “the sunlight of the spirit,” and the “business of resentment is fatal” (66). If you are unable to experience spirituality, you can’t work a program of recovery. You must get rid of your resentment to move forward in your recovery. If you do not, you will drink or use. The Big Book also states that “resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease” (64). Ok, so highlight that, put a big red flag on it. If you hold onto resentments your chances aren’t too hot.
5. Lack of Involvement in Program of Recovery & Complacency
Twelve-step based programs are also called program(s) of recovery. There are many ways to be involved in a program of recovery. But, there are some essential types of involvement to be considered in “recovery.” Some of these activities are attending meetings regularly, talking to other people in the program, sponsoring, and helping others, to name a few. When someone is not participating in the program, it is a pretty good indicator that things are awry, or will be going awry very soon. Complacency is a huge offender as well. When we become complacent, our ego takes over and tells us that we have this thing licked. But, we don’t. And, that’s how we relapse.