Maybe you’re in early addiction recovery, or maybe you’ve been around for a while. Or, perhaps you’re still in active addiction and curious about recovery. Regardless of where you’re standing now, just know that recovery is not always a straight path. There can be a lot of twists and turns along the way, particularly when it comes to triggers and temptations. If you are in recovery, particularly if you’ve been around for a while, you probably know this. Recovery is beautiful, rewarding, and life transforming, but it does take work. And, by no means is this meant to discourage anyone who wants to get sober. Because most people who are really and truly doing the work are likely to tell you that it’s the most powerful work they’ve ever done. And, it’s not complicated either, but it does require dedication to one’s own recovery.
With that being said, let’s talk about some common slippery slopes for people in recovery. In other words, things and situations to be aware of that could potentially trigger a relapse. If you’ve done the work to stay sober for an extended period of time, then you likely view your recovery and actual sobriety as precious. For a die-hard addict or alcoholic in recovery, staying sober should be the first priority. If it is, life usually falls into place beautifully and, eventually, with ease.
While everyone’s recovery journey is different and, therefore, everyone’s triggers are different, here are some of the most common reasons addicts relapse:
- Not being mindful of this powerful acronym — H.A.L.T.: If you’ve been around 12-step recovery for a while, you probably know what this stands for. If not, it’s an acronym made up of four parts: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. And the takeaway is not to let these things or emotions take over. Of course, it’s not always that easy to not get tired, angry, lonely, or hungry, but we can make choices in our lives to minimize the risk of becoming any of these things. AA’s Big Book tells us that anger is the dubious luxury of normal men, but that it’s poison for alcoholics. This applies to addicts in general, and it also applies to the hungry, lonely, and tired part of the acronym. All of these things have the potential to trigger a relapse, so just keep them in check if you can help it. At the end of the day, it’s all about progress and not perfection. We’re all human and we’re beautifully imperfect. Things in recovery will anger us, drive us to exhaustion, and leave us feeling alone and confused. But, the sooner we can divert our focus to doing the inner recovery work when we start to feel these things crop up, the easier it will be for us to keep our sobriety. And, as we build better lives for ourselves, we’ll find these things beginning to lessen or slip away with time.
- Getting into a relationship early in recovery: Another suggestion in many recovery programs, including AA and NA, is to stay out of relationships for our first year in recovery. Of course, this applies to those of us who aren’t already in a relationship when we get sober. It’s also just a suggestion, and getting into a relationship early in recovery doesn’t always end in a relapse, but it can and it makes us vulnerable. No matter how good and strong a relationship is, difficult experiences are almost inevitably going to crop up. This is particularly true for new relationships when two people are just getting to know each other in an intimate way. Most people in early recovery are learning how to really deal with their emotions sober for the first time in their lives. If and when difficult situations arise (in a new relationship for instance), it’s often tempting to turn to old coping mechanisms. And, you can probably see how this can be a slippery slope leading back to addictive behaviors like drinking or using drugs. Again, staying out of relationships in early recovery is only a suggestion. But if you’re single when you get sober and you can focus on your recovery on your own for the first year, you’re giving yourself the best chance of success. Plus, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to do the inner work necessary for a strong, healthy and beautiful relationship down the track. Once you feel comfortable, confident, and happy by yourself and in your own skin, you won’t need a relationship to feel happy. And, when you do meet the right person, it’s infinitely more likely (and probable) that this person will enhance your already awesome life.
- Playing in the same old playgrounds with the same people: For most of us in recovery, we really are starting from scratch again. This often means cutting ties with the people we used to drink or use with, particularly if these people were only in our lives as party pals. It also means staying away from bars we used to frequent and places where we used to drink or use heavily. Once again, this is only a suggestion. No one is telling you to ditch all of your friends and stop leaving the house. Just be honest with yourself about why you might be hanging out with certain people you used to party with. Or why you feel the need to hang out at your neighborhood pub to drink ginger ale and eat chicken wings while watching your friends get hammered. If your recovery is important to you, these are the questions you should probably be asking yourself, particularly if you’re in early sobriety.
- Isolating: This has been a tricky one for a lot of people these past couple of years through the pandemic. And, unfortunately, relapse rates during Covid were pretty high. But, thankfully, the lockdowns seem to be mostly behind us. Nevertheless, it’s provided us with a powerful example of how isolation can be detrimental to those of us in recovery. It’s also resulted in a significant increase in online meetings which is wonderful. If you’re tempted to start relying on yourself in recovery, please listen to those with more time who’ve learned the hard way how dangerous isolating can be. Remember, it’s your own head that once kept you in active addiction, and it can easily take you back there if you’re not careful. There are literally millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people in recovery across the globe. And we’re all connected these days, so you’re certainly not alone. Other addicts and alcoholics are your lifeline. Don’t forget this.
- Narcotic pain medication: This is a tricky one because many of us find ourselves in situations where we’re prescribed narcotic pain medication after something like a major operation. Even anesthesia can be triggering for many of us. This can be troublesome for those of us who’ve had issues with narcotics when we were in active addiction. Nevertheless, certain pain medication is often necessary for us to heal properly depending on the nature of the procedure or our pain source. This scenario will differ from person to person, but generally speaking, if you find yourself in a situation where you must take strong medication, take it as directed by your doctor. Many people in recovery who are faced with this will ask someone close to them to be in charge of their medication. When the severity of the pain begins to subside, switching to something less addictive like ibuprofen is usually recommended. If you notice you’re beginning to do things like convince yourself that a double dose of your meds is a good idea, this is a red flag. Be aware, and if you must, ask a trusted friend in recovery to keep an eye on you and your medication use.
Regardless of how your addiction began, it’s all the same to your brain — a foreign substance is mimicking biological neurotransmitters. While this isn’t hugely troublesome in the beginning, it becomes a problem with repeated use. For addicts and alcoholics in particular, our brains become accustomed to these substances and we become dependent. Therefore, in recovery, if we start to repeat old behaviors, our brains remember and our addictions can easily get triggered. Remember this, and remember that your recovery is precious. Be mindful of your triggers and do your best to create a life for yourself where these triggers are minimized.
Finally, give yourself credit for staying sober, even if you’ve only been sober for 24 hours. Recovery is a one day at a time journey and it’s not easy, but you’re doing it. Stick around and you’ll find a life filled with limitless possibilities ahead — some might even say recovery leads to a life beyond your wildest dreams. And, yes, we believe this wholeheartedly.
Kembali Recovery Center can help
If you or someone you love is struggling to get or stay sober, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options. Remember, you never have to do this alone.