If you take a look at the inside of a mechanical clock, you’d see what looks like a mess of tiny cogs, wheels and gears. Each part has multiple points of contact with other parts so that one cannot move unless they all move. As long as you continue to wind the mainspring, this intricate, mechanical puzzle continues its fluid motion with all parts functioning as though they were one.
However, if you fail to wind the mainspring the watch would no longer keep time. 1
In this way, recovery can be a lot like a watch. There are many separate components involved in remaining sober, and each one requires a certain amount of a person’s attention and energy. When one devotes the necessary amount of time to maintaining all these separate parts, recovery goes smoothly. But all it takes is one weak gear for the whole thing to fail. Therefore, it’s extremely important that those seeking or beginning addiction recovery know and address those individual components of a successful, long-lasting sobriety.
Relapse prevention is one of the most important pieces of the recovery puzzle as it lends to the longevity of a person’s sobriety. In the simplest of terms, it refers to the skills, strategies, and other knowledge a person uses to avoid, resist, or prevent a relapse from occurring. Additionally, relapse prevention requires knowledge of triggers: what they are, when they might occur, and how to handle them. While addiction treatment programs teach patients about the most common and well-known relapse triggers, there are a number of hidden dangers and relapse triggers that one wouldn’t expect could pose a threat to his or her sobriety.
Family, Friends and Other Loved Ones
According to psychiatrist Dr. Chad Coren, a trigger is “any high-risk situation or stressor that sparks off a thought, feeling or action to use alcohol or drugs.” Coren continues to describe a trigger as the experience of being tempted to use, likening the word to “craving” and “urge.” 2 Clearly, triggers are a very broad concept that can encompass many things, but as there tends to be many characteristics of addiction that are nearly universal among all addicts, most addicts tend to share certain relapse triggers, some of which they learn about while in rehab. But there are a number of triggers that are especially dangerous because they’re things that people wouldn’t necessarily expect to cause intense urges to use.
One’s family and friends can be a little-known trigger that few would expect could threaten sobriety. We usually think of loved ones as being supporters of recovery rather than a danger to it. But it begins to make sense when you consider that some of the most significant stressors a person can experience are family-oriented: marital problems, moving to a new home, loss of job or income, death of a loved one and illness in the family. 3 And these are only the most significant sources of family-related stress. When you broaden the scope to include somewhat less significant catalysts, the number of potential trigger events is seemingly infinite.
They may be an important part of our lives, but the people closest to us can also be causes of significant stress, and that is a serious threat to someone in recovery from addiction. The obvious solution would be to avoid stressful situations among loved ones, but that’s not necessarily the most realistic plan. Instead, people in recovery should approach the problems that instigate stress in a calm and level-headed manner. Work together to create actionable plans that can mitigate the situation, perhaps even preventing similar stressors in the future.
Movies, Television Shows and the News
Among all alcoholics and drug addicts who complete addiction treatment, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that between 40 and 60 of them relapse back into their addictions.4 When a relapse occurs, it’s usually the result of an addict being confronted by an unexpected trigger they weren’t prepared to deal with, and there’s emerging evidence to suggest that television is a major source of these triggers. In a recent study, recovering addicts were found to pay particular attention to cues in movies, television, news and even the accompanying music that evoked thoughts of their prior substance abuse, which consequently triggered strong urges to relapse.5 Aside from depictions or simulations of actual alcohol and drug use, the cues could be subliminal with the subjects being uncertain as to what it was, exactly, that triggered their cravings. Other times, their recall would be more direct.
However, with American adults consuming an average of 5.5 hours of video content per day via the internet and television, people in recovery are quite likely to be triggered by their entertainment, often without even being aware of it.6 Cutting out all media consumption could be a solution, albeit the most extreme one. Instead, it would be more reasonable to simply limit the amount of content one consumes and be more strategic about what one views.
Sex and Relationships
Those who have received formal, clinical addiction treatments will likely have been warned not to pursue sexual or romantic relationships for at least a year after completing their rehabilitative programming. The purpose of this solo period is to give those who are still in the very early stages of recovery ample time to focus on themselves, establishing and adjusting to this completely new life, to practice coping with cravings and dealing with triggers, and to figure out what they want from life.7 Sexual and romantic relationships during this period of early recovery can cause a number of problems. For instance, addicts in early recovery who pursue romantic relationships with others before they’re ready sometimes inadvertently end up substituting alcohol or drug abuse with sex or relationships, resulting in codependency or mistaking infatuation with love. Therefore, sex and romantic relationships in early recovery often trigger relapses because they inadvertently make recovering addicts search outside themselves for validation and fulfillment rather than from within.
A New Job or Promotion
More often than not, getting a new job or being promoted from one’s current job is cause for celebration. However, people in active addiction often are used to celebrating with substance use, so it’s common for a recovered addict to experience strong urges to use as a result of a development in his or her career.8 Moreover, it’s natural to feel some level of anxiety due to a career change. We think of things like being in an unfamiliar environment, meeting new people who may use drugs or drink alcohol, and experiencing some fear of being away from colleagues and friends who may have been essential parts of one’s support network. The best way to resist this type of trigger would be to find a more appropriate, substance-free way to celebrate, perhaps even including new co-workers as a way to start establishing healthy relationships with them.
Potential relapse triggers can occur very unexpectedly, which is why it’s important for those in recovery to have an actionable plan that will help them protect their sobriety. If you or someone you love would like to discuss the treatment options available, Talbott Recovery can help. Call us toll-free at 678-981-8815 to speak with one of our experienced admissions coordinators.
Written by Dane O’Leary