alcohol addiction

How to Manage Triggers to Prevent Relapse in Recovery

When someone is living with alcohol addiction, successful completion of a program at an alcohol treatment center does not guarantee a life of sobriety. An important part of an alcoholism treatment program is to prepare patients for their return to daily lives, which includes how to deal with the triggers and stressors they will face without relapsing into using alcohol.

Untreated alcoholism forms negative cycles in a person’s behavior that include the following stages:

  • Heavy drinking while in the addiction phase
  • Withdrawal when a decision is taken to refrain from drinking
  • Relapse when something triggers old negative behaviors

The main reason people who have not received specialist treatment at an alcohol rehab center invariably relapse is because once they have decided to refrain from drinking, it becomes the focus of all their thoughts. A preoccupation with alcohol can lead to a particular vulnerability to stressors and a rapid response of reverting to using it when faced with an uncomfortable situation.

There are several key elements at play when it comes to the propensity someone has for relapse including:

  • A compulsion to find and use alcohol
  • An inability to limit or restrict use and manage cravings
  • Feelings of depression and anxiety can often lead to self-medicating with alcohol
  • The severity of psychological and physical symptoms during withdrawal

What Exactly Is a Relapse?

Relapse is incorrectly viewed as being an isolated event outside of recovery. However, single events like this are not classed as relapse because relapse is a process that has a direct connection with recovery from alcoholism.

There are three ways relapse can be triggered, as follows:

  • Relapse through thoughts:  “I’ve not had a drink for a while and I feel in control of my addiction. I deserve to ‘treat’ myself with a drink – just the one”.
  • Relapse through behavior: “I don’t feel as though I have control of my thoughts and feelings without alcohol and it’s impacting my relationships with others”.
  • Relapse through ‘controlled’ use: “I think that if I control the amount of alcohol I drink that I can cope better with everyday problems, without any risk of hitting bottom again.”

In essence, triggers are situations, circumstances or events that start a train of thought, where reasons and justifications are made by a person to ‘allow’ them to use again. However, this is just another form of denial that can lead to a very high risk of relapse.

What Are the Types of Triggers of Relapse?

Everyone is different and has their personal challenges to face when seeking to overcome alcoholism. The benefit of specialist alcohol treatment centers is that clinicians are able to make a thorough evaluation of each patient’s case history and create the most appropriate and effective course of treatment for their specific needs.

An important part of alcohol rehab is learning new techniques and skills that can act as coping mechanisms after treatment. Mindfulness practices and therapy arm patients with the best tools to protect them from cravings and prevent negative responses to any triggers they may experience when they have left the treatment facility.

There are two types of triggers generally faced by people leaving inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehab:

  • Emotional triggers: Frustration, fear, anxiety, stress, depression.
  • Environmental triggers: peer pressure from people still using, parties where drink is available.

Ways to Manage Cravings and Triggers After Alcohol Rehab

  • While in rehab, patients get the opportunity to build a solid support network that includes their own friends and family as well as medical professionals and others in recovery. A well-rounded group of contacts allows someone to feel more confident in sobriety; having someone on the other end of the phone can provide significant peace of mind in difficult situations.
  • Regularly attending meetings and support groups allow people in recovery a platform from which they can gain a better understanding of how to manage triggers. Discussing issues with people who have been through exactly the same situations and circumstances is hugely beneficial for those in recovery from alcoholism.
  • Frequent exercise acts as a good distraction and prevents people from obsessing about alcohol when they are trying to live without it. Physical exercise also instills a sense of discipline in people and is very beneficial in increasing confidence and self-esteem.
  • Using some of the techniques and practices taught during alcohol rehab like yoga, for example, can give patients a positive process to put in place when they are confronted with stressful situations or triggers for relapse.
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