The Inside and Outside of Relapse triggers.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


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Relapse triggers, either internal or external, are those things that set off cravings in a recovering person. The failure to do maintenance steps in the process of change increase the risk of giving into triggers.

External triggers are the things outside ourselves that place us at risk to resume old behaviors and give up on the progress of recovery. Shorthand ways of understanding these triggers are people, places, and things.

People are one of the biggest reasons people relapse. There is a huge temptation to look up old friends. Often the only thing that you have in common with an old friend is a history of using drugs or drinking. Sometimes there was a history of other dysfunctional activities, codependency, or abusive relationships. If the people you had around you in the past supported your addiction or if they were not affirming, or made you feel bad about yourself, being around them can take you back there. Avoiding people who are bad for you is not being is being self-caring. In early recovery it is suggested you not make a change you can’t take back like changing jobs or relationships. Surround yourself with people who support your recovery.

Places are another important external trigger to pay attention to. Alcoholics need to avoid bars; drug addicts should avoid dope houses. But there are other places to avoid. People with relationship issues should avoid revisiting places they used to go with a partner who is no longer in your life. Should someone on a diet visit a candy store? I wouldn’t recommend it. Think about places that you may need to avoid if you want to be secure in your recovery. Is there a family member or former friend who triggers your issues?

Things can also reignite thoughts of returning to an old lifestyle. Music can be a powerful memory trigger, so can some smells. People with relationship issues, sometimes we call these people love-addicts, find it hard to let a relationship go. They keep the old moments out. They think about the things they did together. One last call to see how that person is doing is likely to set off a new round of problems. Carrying lots of cash can trigger some people, especially gambling addicts and former drug dealers. Sometimes it is a pipe or a lighter you find hard to get rid of. Is there something that reminds you of your issue but which you find hard to give up?

Internal triggers are the other part of the equation. The things going on inside our bodies and our minds are also relapse triggers. The word HALT standing for, Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired is used as a reminder of those triggers.

Hunger, thirst, and many other physical sensations can make you feel restless, irritable, and unleash the cravings. Negative emotions are powerful relapse triggers. Feeling anger fear or resentment, any number of negative emotions can cause someone to catch a case of “who cares.” Loneliness sends people back to their disorder quickly. Being tired is likely to upset recovery also. All of these internal triggers have to do with not taking care of ourselves. It is a short hop from not taking care of yourself to thinking you don’t deserve care, after that why should you hang on? Why not go back to the old life? People who don’t provide good self-care don’t encourage others to care for them. They start believing they don’t deserve to be treated well and then they stop treating themselves well.

Another way of understanding internal and external triggers is to look at the two main causes of relapse, romances, and finances. Romances are all about your feelings, feelings of loving and being loved, self-worth, and self-esteem. Finances, mostly money, is the ultimate thing. Lack of money can sap our will to change. Having a lot of money makes some people feel they are invincible; the rules don’t apply to them. Pay attention to the healthiness of your relationships with things and with people. When one of these relationships gets out of balance, your life is headed out of balance.

These are only some of the things that might cause you to relapse. We each have our own triggers. What are yours? Knowing your triggers and how to defuse them strengthens your recovery.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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