Be aware of your addiction triggers. An addiction trigger is a person, event, emotion, or sensory experience that significantly increases the risk of relapsing into old patterns of substance use. Every person has their own unique triggers. The goal is to become aware of those that make you particularly vulnerable. Some of the most common addiction triggers Include:
- Socializing with friends, family members, or others who currently use drugs or alcohol or have active addictions
- Visiting places where you used substances in the past
- Exposure to high levels of stress
- Situations where sensory experiences heighten your craving for substances, such as the smell or alcohol or cigarette smoke
- Difficult emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness
Each of these triggers and others prompt a familiar response in you to use a substance as a means of coping. Perhaps the most common risk for relapse is being overly confident that you’re no longer vulnerable to addiction triggers. This usually happens after you’ve been abstinent for some time. You tell yourself that you can have “a drink or two” to help manage your stress or that it’s okay to socialize with old friends in bars. This rationalization usually leads to a major relapse, which you can avoid by maintaining respect for the addiction triggers in your life. As an extension of the respect for your addiction triggers, create a deliberate plan to avoid as many people and situations that might activate one or more of these triggers. Also, find ways to better manage difficult emotions that arise from stress or situations that prompt anxiety, fear, or loneliness. A professional who’s experienced in substance-use issues can help you discover new ways to manage these parts of your life.
Build a strong support base. Embrace the relationships in your life that are supportive of your recovery and let go of the ones that promote substance use. This idea of “letting go” isn’t easy when you have long-term relationships that you care about. But if these people truly care about you, they’ll support your efforts to stay clean. Reach out and build new friendships around the healthy interests you might have. Join a walking club, get involved in a book discussion group, or volunteer for a community project. You can also reinvest in established relationships that you may have ignored due to your previous substance use. These relationships not only help support your recovery, but provide companionship and someone with whom you can talk to when you feel vulnerable to relapse.
Develop healthy habits. It’s particularly important that you replace your old substance-using routine with habits that reinforce your new goals and intentions. For starters, you can create a daily schedule where you block time for the parts of your life that are priorities, such as work, family, exercise, and sleep. Buy an inexpensive daily planner and plot out your activities. When you think of these priorities as fixtures in your schedule with a clear idea of how and when you’ll attend to them, you’re much more likely to realize these goals and feel encouraged by your efforts as you continue to achieve them each day. In your daily schedule, make a special effort to practice good self-care. This is one of the most important things you can do to prevent relapse. Think back to when you were actively using substances. Did you use alcohol or drugs to relax, cope with stress, or reward yourself? If you don’t take the necessary precautions to eat well, get good sleep, exercise regularly, spend time with the people most important to you, and relax and nourish some of your own interests and passions, you’re setting yourself up for a possible relapse.
- Stay motivated. Most people who complete an addiction rehab or recovery program are highly motivated when they initially finish. But over time, the mundane aspects of daily life can dull that motivation. One way to keep your motivation sharp is to make daily, concrete, short-term goals that are in line with your priorities. For example, split your lunch hour by using half of it for a brisk walk to clear your head of stress and enjoy the outdoors. Or call a good friend and ask them to meet you for coffee. The accomplishment of goals, even simple ones, is empowering and keeps you focused on moving forward in your recovery.
- Strive for growth, not perfection. There’s a good reason people in recovery try to abide by the saying, “One day at a time.” It can be overwhelming to think that you have to remain abstinent for the rest of your life. Instead, just focus on making the best decisions you can with the situations you face today. If you do relapse, try not to view it as a sign of ultimate failure. Instead, focus your energy on trying to get back on track. Reach out for help. Begin working through your recovery program again. You got clean once, you can do it again. Learn from your mistakes, and remember that you only truly fail when you stop trying.