Some relapse triggers, such as stress, job loss, isolation, the death of a loved one, and other distressing events or feelings, get a lot of attention during treatment, and rightly so.
But sometimes it’s the happy moments (or the seemingly neutral ones) that sneak up and trigger a return to drug use. Here are five triggers that often take unsuspecting recoverees by surprise:
#1 Sex and Relationships
An oft-repeated (and oft-ignored) cardinal rule of early recovery is to avoid dating for at least the first year. This advice is not intended to punish, but to give the recovering addict time to focus internally – to figure out who they are, what they want and how to cope without using drugs or alcohol – before trying to be a source of support for someone else.
At a time when recovering addicts are most likely to want a relationship and least likely to be prepared for one, they are at high risk of falling into the familiar pattern of looking outside of themselves to fulfill emotional needs, escape or relieve stress. Some people rely on the “high” of a new relationship as a substitute for drugs or alcohol. Cross addictions to sex, love, romance or relationships are a major cause of relapse among the newly sober.
In addition to the obvious emotional strain when the relationship falters or comes to an end, few addicts in early recovery are in a position to judge whether someone will be a good match – or to be a good partner for someone else. Diseased thinking and tenuous self-esteem make them more likely to attract someone who is infatuated, controlling, addicted or unavailable than to achieve genuine intimacy.
Relapse Prevention Strategy: Follow the sage wisdom of AA and recommend that all recovering addicts avoid dating for at least the first year of recovery. They should use this time to focus instead on family relationships and friendships before diving back into the dating world.
#2 A Promotion or New Job
Finding a new job or getting a promotion is a time for celebration, which for most people in recovery was at one time synonymous with indulging in drugs or alcohol. A promotion can be a double-edged sword – a confidence-builder as well as a temptation to use their increased financial resources for drugs or alcohol.
Relapse Prevention Strategy: In many cases, there is no need for recovering addicts to turn down a job offer or a promotion to protect their sobriety. Like any other employee, they may need to ask for help if work demands become a threat to their health or productivity. Following a significant change in income, recovering addicts may benefit from hiring a financial advisor or life coach, or spending time in a structured sober living environment that offers training in budgeting, time management and other life skills.