Dealing with Overwhelming Triggers to Relapse on Drugs

Dealing with Overwhelming Triggers to Relapse on Drugs


Every one in addiction recovery is going to have to deal with temptation at some point.

Early recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction tends to be a bit of a roller coaster. Your emotions are all over the map and it is going to seem as if all kinds of drama is popping up out of nowhere. You know what the easy solution is and you know how to make all of the pain and chaos go away, at least in the short term. Self medicating with our drug of choice is the easy fix, the quick solution. It was our solution for nearly everyone for a long time, and even after we make the decision to get clean and sober, the idea still pops into our heads, seemingly against our will.

And it keeps happening. We don’t magically leave triggers and urges behind after we get to 90 days sober. We don’t suddenly become completely cured of all urges after we hit the one year mark. This is something that we have to deal with for the long haul. Temptation is always going to be there.

So we need a strategy to deal with these overwhelming triggers to use drugs or alcohol. We need to design a system for living that protects us against the threat of relapse.

How exactly do we do that?

A few suggestions that have worked for me. For starters, it is worth pointing out that I built my foundation for recovery by going to lots of addiction treatment, having therapy on a weekly basis, and generally immersing myself completely in an addiction treatment program. When I say “completely,” what I really mean is that I dedicated my entire life to addiction recovery for at least the first two years or so. That was my only priority for the foreseeable future because I knew that if I relapsed everything would basically go back to chaos and misery very quickly.

So my first suggestion to you is that you start with inpatient treatment. Call a rehab center and ask questions. Begin your journey in a 28 day program if possible. Some people argue that they cannot afford to be gone from their life for 28 days, or that they could not possible do 28 days in a rehab center, but this is just an excuse. Some of these same people who argued that they could not miss out on 28 days of their life later got put into jail or prison for more than 28 days. Some of these same people also overdosed and passed away. When compared to those results, doing 28 days in a treatment center is not much of a commitment or sacrifice. If it can buy your life back for you then doing 28 days in rehab is the best possible choice you could ever make, and it is one that I highly recommend because it worked for me.

So that is the foundation–go to inpatient treatment and give yourself every advantage. But after you leave treatment you are going to be back out in the real world and facing all sorts of temptation again.

So let’s separate this into 2 parts: That time in early recovery when you have just left rehab, up until roughly the 2 year point in sobriety. Let’s think of this as being “early recovery.” The second part is basically everything that follows this for the rest of your life, and we can think of that as being “long term recovery.”

The strategies for these two parts of recovery–in my opinion at least–are quite different.

In early recovery, the strategy is to dedicate your life to a treatment program. Your goal should be to humble yourself and to listen to the direction and advice of other people. Do what they tell you to do. Talk to your therapist, get a sponsor in AA or NA, listen to your peers in meetings, and so on. Go to therapy, go to IOP, go to meetings, do this stuff every single day of your life.

Do all of it. At rehab they are going to make lots of suggestions. Take all of those suggestions and put them into action. Hold back nothing and be willing to dive in and do all of it.

They will suggest going to 90 AA meetings in the first 90 days. My sponsor made the suggestion to me to do this for the entire first year of my recovery–hit a meeting every single day. That way you are covering yourself in case a random trigger comes up. You have established a habit that can “catch” it if you get into trouble. Because you know you are going to a meeting every day, this creates some accountability for you. The fellowship at the meetings gets to know you and they expect you to show up and be sober. So you know in the back of your mind that if you slip up that those people are going to be asking questions, texting your phone, and hunting you down to see what the problem is. You need to set up this kind of accountability deliberately. Dedicating your life to recovery and diving into treatment programs is one way to do this.

Now as you transition into long term recovery, the focus changes a bit. The problem is that you can easily become complacent while going to that AA meeting every day, and people can still relapse while falling into this trap.

So you need a slightly different strategy for long term recovery. At this point I think the game changes slightly and it becomes about personal growth and self improvement. You no longer need people to give you advice every day and push you to go meetings and so on. Instead, you have your foundation in recovery and you pretty much know how to make it through the day sober at this point.

But now you need to figure out how to motivate yourself to keep pursuing personal growth.

Why is this necessary?

Because the threat of relapse is going to keep evolving and changing in your life. You do not know how or why you are going to be tempted in the future by drugs or alcohol. But we can pretty much bet that temptation is coming, that relapse will try to sneak into our lives, that we will face new and unexpected triggers at some point.

That is the key: you are going to face triggers that you cannot anticipate.

Therefore, you need a strategy that can protect you in spite of these obstacles. So you need to establish daily habits such as physical exercise, working with newcomers in recovery, writing in a journal, seated meditation, and so on.

Those are the kinds of habits that can help you to overcome a variety of unexpected trigger situations. If you do not proactively build this sort of lifestyle that protects you from relapse then you can expect for temptation to be that much worse in the future.

The key is that you are proactive and deliberate in your quest for personal growth. You must not be passive about this. Go find yourself in recovery. Good luck!