A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Drug and Alcohol Relapse Triggers

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After you have completed treatment, the biggest challenge to enjoying a life free from addiction is learning to deal with triggers. According to UCLA, triggers are “specific environments, people and objects that can spark an addict’s craving for drugs.”

This can be something as simple as walking into the room where drug use regularly happened or feeling an emotion that would have caused you to turn to drugs before recovery. While some triggers, like the places or people you were around when you used drugs, are avoidable, avoiding triggers is not possible 100 percent of the time.

If you are struggling with the desire to use drugs, even after successfully completing a recovery program, your reaction to triggers may be to blame.

Common Triggers and the Feelings They Bring

Triggers can be anything that sparks the craving to use drugs or alcohol. These may include:

  • People
  • Places
  • Situations
  • Actions
  • Stress
  • Emotions
  • Music
  • Drug-use paraphernalia

Drug use is a conditioned reflex, so something as simple as seeing a syringe at a doctor’s office can trigger the desire to use syringe-delivered drugs. Hearing the music you listened to while using may trigger the desire.

These triggers not only bring the desire to use drugs, but also intense cravings. Triggers are located everywhere, so learning to handle the urge to turn to drugs when faced with triggers is essential.

Complications from Overconfidence

Unfortunately, many people who are newly sober are overconfident in their abilities to handle triggers and reintegrate into daily life. After a few weeks or months of sobriety, you may start to feel as if you no longer need to participate in recovery.

Your confidence will trick you into thinking that daily life is something you can tackle without help. The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that this type of overconfidence leaves you vulnerable to triggers, which can spiral you into relapse.

The Risk of Pink Cloud Syndrome

Another problem that recovering addicts have to deal with is known as “pink cloud syndrome.” This term refers to the intensely happy and positive emotions that sobriety brings. Unfortunately, the pink cloud does not last, and this emotional “high” can come crashing down and increase the risk of relapse. In this way, the pink cloud, in and of itself, can be a relapse trigger.

The Potential Result of Drug and Alcohol Relapse Triggers

Relapse does not happen when you pick up the drug and start using again. Relapse begins with the trigger that sparks the desire to use. Triggers, whether a physical object, situation or simply a feeling, such as pink cloud syndrome, are impossible to avoid.

If you do not guard against triggers and their pull on you, you will find yourself in relapse, turning again to the drugs you worked so hard to break free from.

Successful recovery involves more than detoxing from the drug. Coping skills, those skills that help you avoid triggers and respond when presented with unavoidable triggers, are an essential part of the process.

Maintaining sobriety as a lifestyle requires an understanding of triggers and their role in your new life. If you are continuing to feel strong cravings for drugs, take a closer look at your response to the triggers in your life.


  1. Stuart Wolpert, People can overcome their addictions, but not quickly, UCLA psychologist says, UCLA Newsroom, Sept. 7, 2010,http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/people-can-overcome-their-addictions-170880
  2. An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Cocaine Addiction, National Institute on Drug Abuse,http://archives.drugabuse.gov/TXManuals/IDCA/IDCA11.html>

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