Renaissance Ranch

Learning From and Avoiding Relapse Triggers

May 11, 2021

Anyone who has gone through an addiction treatment program knows that relapse is always a very real possibility. While the goal is total abstinence from the substance we were once abusing, relapse or recurrent episodes are often part of our recovery path.

Beating ourselves up over these episodes does nothing to help us and will only continue the cycle of guilt, shame, embarrassment, isolation, and relapse. Instead, we can look at our situation from a different perspective. Each relapse offers us an opportunity to better understand our triggers and the emotions they evoke in us. Anticipating, planning for, observing, and avoiding our triggers will help us keep our eyes on the true joy that comes from living an addiction-free life.

Avoiding Relapse Triggers

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All of us have people with whom we associate drinking or using. Perhaps it’s a coach or teammate, or a co-worker who often shared drinks with you after work. Maybe it’s even a spouse or former girlfriend. While it can be complicated, especially when our fellow substance abuser is someone close, it’s necessary to seek out new friendships with healthy individuals and distance ourselves from those toxic relationships.

Engaging with recovery support groups and other mental health resources is a vital part of that effort. This is because even if a spouse or close friend doesn’t abuse, they don’t fully understand what it’s like to be an addict either. Your relationship is likely strained to the point where you both need professional resources to avoid the triggers that come with old emotional baggage. Renaissance Ranch recognizes that with the right tools, relationships with family members can go from triggering to therapeutic and supportive, and offers several free classes and podcasts to help.


High-risk places can be virtually anywhere you used to drink or use, or with which you associate your substance abuse, such as bars, nightclubs, friends’ homes, and vacation spots. Even driving by a street corner where you used to meet your dealer can be triggering. Avoid these areas as much as possible. If you drank heavily with a fellow employee after work, refrain from getting together with him or her outside of the office. If your favorite vacation spot is also the place where you drank heavily or used drugs, find a new destination. If your friend’s home is dangerous territory, start hanging out with them less, and when you do get together, pick a public place to meet, preferably during the day, such as to grab a snack, play tennis, or see a movie.


A variety of things can trigger us, like cash and ATMs, pipes, liquor bottles, cigarettes, lighters, and syringes, just to name a few. Sometimes even a spoon can trigger cravings in a heroin addict. Do you get rid of all the spoons in your house? Do you never get cash out of an ATM again? All good questions. The answers really depend on knowing the difference between what things really set you off and what things you can learn to be around without associating them with your addiction history. Learning coping skills and having a solid support system in place can help you tell the difference.


Celebratory and recreational events and activities like wedding receptions, parties, sports competitions, and concerts often are associated with alcohol or drug use. It’s simple to stay away from bars and clubs, but what about family and other functions where casual drinking is acceptable, or even encouraged? Maybe you will need to stay away from your best friend’s wedding reception and only attend the wedding for now.

If you want to get together with your friends, but you’re not ready to go to a party, invite everyone over for an alcohol-free daytime BBQ instead. Engage in more naturally ‘sober’ activities, such as sports, exercise, hikes, picnics, and other daytime get-togethers. Local detox treatment centers and recovery support groups often plan fun, safe activities to do together, so take advantage of those opportunities when they arise.


Be aware of your emotions. Are there physical needs that you must meet first before you can regulate? Being hungry or tired often makes a bad situation worse. Make getting proper rest and nourishment a priority. You might also want to take some time to meditate each day.

Stressful situations can also be brought on by anger, shame, or overconfidence. If you know the family dinner on Saturday is just going to be another public shaming of your past behavior, then skip it until family relations have improved. If you suddenly find yourself in a heated argument with a loved one or friend, regardless of who’s at fault, give yourself a brief time out to calm down and catch your breath. Then try and approach the situation from the perspective of valuing the relationship over being right.

Maybe you did go to that wedding reception after all, thinking that you are ready for any challenge. Once you’re there, however, you become tense and stressed out about seeing everyone around you drinking and having fun. You made a mistake – own it to your friend and then remove yourself from the situation. It’s ok not to be ready yet, and a true friend will understand that. Finally, self-isolation can put you in high-stress mode, so when things get bad or hard, reach out to someone you trust. You don’t have to walk this road alone.

Addiction recovery is about changing your life, so please don’t expect it to happen overnight and without any complications along the way. Renaissance Ranch is a Christian-based rehabilitation center and all of our counselors and therapists are also in recovery. We have walked in your shoes, and we know how hard recovery can be. We are here to let you know it’s worth it.

Bad Influences

Overcoming addiction requires a life change, and you won’t be able to maintain recovery if you return to your old way of life. Avoid bars, parties, or hang-outs where you’ll be exposed to your addictive substance(s).

Down Time

Avoiding your old activities is going to leave some free time in your schedule, and boredom can lead to cravings and relapse. Find a hobby, attend your 12-step meetings, and make some new friends instead.


Recovery is going to be made up of a series of successes that keep you going, but there will be some failure on the way. Not living up to others’ expectations, or to your own expectations of yourself can bring on stress and disappointment that you will naturally want to ease with substance abuse. Have a backup plan in place to handle these situations, and remember that failure is part of the learning process.


You’ve made some big life changes, and there are more to come. you may feel like a stranger in your own skin and will long for the familiarity of your addiction. Engage in other areas of your life that are familiar to you, instead. Spend time with family, take up old interests, and just give yourself some time to readjust.


Many times a relapse occurs when an addict is at the top of their game, making great strides in their recovery, and beginning to feel invincible. This puts you in a precarious position as you begin to rely on your own strength, and forget to humbly ask God for help. Keep up with the program, and stay involved with your support system, no matter how well you’re doing.


Fear, lack of confidence, and feelings of inadequacy can crop up at any time as staying clean begins to wear on you over time. Ask for help, take comfort from those closest to you, and try again as many times as you need to. Properly caring for yourself physically will also help you to get through the low spots.

If you do experience a relapse during addiction recovery, get help right away. Giving up and letting your addiction take over again will only undo all the progress you’ve made. Asking for help right away and getting back on track will help you to learn from your relapse and prevent another one from occurring.