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Identifying Relapse Triggers

Relapse is common, but it is preventable.

Preventing relapse requires awareness of triggers and cues and willingness to do something about it.

You have the information that will help you become more aware of situations and feelings that can set you up for relapse.

The purpose of this exercise is for you to ask yourself questions so you can become aware of possible relapse triggers and make a plan to cope with them so as to prevent relapse.

This exercise can also be useful for family/friends to fill out as they may have different perceptions and be able to see signs that are not noticable to the addict.

If all parties are willing it can be a helpful exercise for all to answer the questions and discuss the answers with each other.

Assessing Risky Situations

1. Relapse is often triggered by relapse cues - sights, sounds, and situations that have often been connected with the addiction in the past.

Many recovering people find that unless they are on guard, their thoughts automatically turn back to old behavior patterns when they are around the people with whom they drank, used or triggered their addiction. Who are the people, or the kind of people, with whom you usually drank or used in the past?

2. Because some addictions, e.g. drinking and drug use, are often a social activity, you may know people who will expect you to continue to use chemicals with them. They may not understand or care about your need and desire to stay clean and sober, and may use persuasion, teasing, or argument to try to get you to relapse. In your life, who are the people most likely to exert social pressure on you to drink or use?(This list may include all or some of the people you listed in Question 1.)

3. Many recovering people find that family members, friends, or coworkers had been enabling their addiction - in other words, these people had helped them avoid the consequences or made it easier in other ways for them to continue. Please list here any people who have enabled you.

4. For each of the people you listed - drinking/using companions, people pressuring you to use, and enablers - please describe how you will avoid relapse triggered by these people's actions.

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5. Looking at situations, what are the social situations that you think will place you at greatest risk for relapse?

6. Many people also used their addiction to cope with stress, and sometimes relationship issues can be extremely stressful. When you think about your future, how do you think relationship difficulties might put you at risk for returning to the addiction?

7. For many people, their addiction had become part of their daily routine, something they did automatically at certain times such as just after work, after eating, or pay day. Reviewing your former daily routines, at what times of the day are you most likely to engage in your addiction?

8. Many people feel the desire to test their ability to maintain recovery in challenging situations, such as being with drinking friends, going to old hangouts, and so on. This often leads to relapse and is an unnecessary risk. In what ways have you tested your ability to stay away from your addiction?

9. As another way to guard against stress-induced relapse, please think about both current situations and future life events you need to be prepared to handle without resorting to your addiction. What are they?

10. What's your plan - what changes are you willing and able to make - to handle the pressures and temptations to resort back to old behaviours that are associated with the situations you listed?

Assessing Internal Warning Signs

1. When you experience urges or cravings, how does your body feel?

2. When you experience urges or cravings, what emotions do you usually feel?

3. As mentioned earlier, your addictionc is often a tool for coping with stress - in other words, a way to change feelings we dislike to ones we are more comfortable with. What unpleasant feelings will place you at greatest risk?

4. Below are some common feelings that people have used addiction to cope with. It's important not only to be determined not to resort to old behaviour in order to cope, but also to know what you will do - not having an alternative to replacement increases your risk of relapse. Next to each feeling, describe what you will do instead to cope with that feeling.

  • a. Anger
  • b. Anxiety
  • c. Boredom
  • d. Sadness
  • e. Fatigue
  • f. Fear
  • g. Frustration
  • h. Loneliness
  • i. Indifference
  • j. Self-pity
  • k. Shame
  • l. Depression
  • m. Other feelings