Since starting a career in the substance abuse field, I’ve had the chance to work with many clients who have experienced a relapse. I’ve also helped them discover factors that have influenced their relapse. Since Covid-19 began, individuals in recovery and those who have achieved sobriety are facing two challenges simultaneously. Having to both live through a global pandemic and stay sober.
Since the worldwide pandemic was announced, we’ve all had to remain quarantined in our homes. This can be a very challenging task for individuals in recovery and sobriety. It can put them at an even higher risk of relapse because of conditions like anxiety and depression that often co-occur with substance use.
Also, when in recovery and during sobriety, we advise individuals who battle an addiction to work on increasing their support network. They can achieve this by attending meetings, working with a sponsor, getting involved in a homegroup, and surrounding themselves with individuals who have similar values and goals for achieving long-term sobriety.
However, with the social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place, said people cannot make these vital connections. It can increase the risk of relapse and/or overdose because of the many stressors they now have to experience daily.
Common Relapse Triggers
For individuals who struggle with substance use, many triggers that can lead to relapse. These triggers can be social, environmental, or emotional. There are two core types of triggers: external and internal.
External triggers comprise people, places, things, objects, or thoughts associated with substance use. For instance, running into a friend who you once used to abuse drugs could trigger thoughts about using and cravings. Internal triggers, which can be more challenging, are feelings, thoughts, or emotions that have been associated with substance use. Throughout my career, I have witnessed individuals struggle with emotions and feelings that make them vulnerable to addiction.
Here is a list of external and internal triggers.
- People (ex: Former drug dealer, friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers)
- Places (ex: Bars and clubs, hotels, concerts, downtown, a bathroom, a friend’s house)
- Things (ex: Movies, television, cash, credit cards, ATMs, empty pill bottles)
- Situations (ex: meeting new people, going out to dance or eat, listening to particular music, payday, after an argument, alone in the house)
- Negative feelings (ex: Fear, anxiety, guilt, depression, shame, loneliness, anger, hate)
- Normal feelings (ex: Boredom, insecurity, embarrassment, pressure, neglect, sadness)
- Positive feelings (ex: Celebratory feelings, happiness, passion, confidence, exhaustion)
Stages of Relapse
When an individual is exposed to a trigger, this doesn’t mean they’ll automatically return to substance use. Instead, they may begin looking for reasons that justify relapsing, despite knowing the importance of maintaining abstinence. Triggers can create an internal battle, which can increase the likelihood of a relapse.
The three stages of relapse––emotional, mental, and physical.
Emotional: An emotional relapse is when an individual remains in denial about his/her feelings, which then leads to negative behaviors of coping.
Mental: A mental relapse is when an individual continuously battles with themselves of wanting to use and knowing that they shouldn’t.
Physical: A physical relapse is when an individual starts using again.
Ways of Preventing a Relapse
Maintaining recovery and sobriety takes hard work, commitment, and dedication. If an individual isn’t willing to actively avoid triggers that could influence a relapse, recovering, and maintaining sobriety can be a very tough challenge.
There is no secret for avoiding relapse, but there are different ways to reduce the chances of it happening. Here are a couple of tips provided by Donna M. White, LPCI, CACP on how to avoid relapse.
- Avoid tempting situations
- Develop a positive support network
- Create a healthy schedule
- Don’t get complacent
- Don’t view relapse as a failure
Staying sober isn’t the easiest thing to do, and it can be a long challenging road. However, it is possible to live an addiction-free life. The key is to be aware of your triggers and continue looking for ways to manage them.