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defusing relapse triggers.
January 30, 2017

When New Sobriety Meets Old Associations:How to Defuse Potential Relapse Triggers

defusing relapse triggers.Relapse is always a danger for recovering addicts, especially in the first 6­–12 months after treatment. Complete avoidance, though the best defense against relapse triggers, isn’t always an option, so old triggers must be met in new ways.

The first step is to know your personal weak spots, the circumstances and emotions that led you to reach for a chemical crutch. Below are suggestions for dealing with six common everyday triggers.

Down Time

Many addicts stay sober during work hours, then spend their off hours getting drunk. Typically, they find little purpose in their jobs and less purpose in life outside work.


  • Evaluate your personal dreams and interests, and use these to set new goals you feel passionate about working toward. If your dreams involve changing careers, don’t be afraid to explore the possibility.
  • Take initiative in planning projects, on or off the job, that are meaningful to you and beneficial to others.
  • Share your time with others. Have a real family dinner. Volunteer for a service project. Join a Meetup.


For many people, certain foods go naturally with alcohol: white wine with fish, beer with pizza. Being accustomed to such combinations can make abstinence doubly difficult when the food is served.


  • Avoid eating or cooking the food your brain associates with alcohol. Try new foods and flavors.
  • Avoid all recipes that use wine or beer. The taste can trigger drink cravings.
  • Avoid restaurants with prominent bars.


If the first part of your monthly paycheck always went to the liquor store, the next paycheck is a potential trigger.


  • Get a financial counselor and plan a strict budget. Make sure someone holds you accountable for following it.
  • Arrange to be paid by direct deposit. Not seeing the check as a separate entity may curb temptations to be careless with it.
  • Cut up your credit cards.

Relationships and Events

Some “drinking buddies” can be dropped from your life completely. Others are impossible to avoid without quitting your job or disowning part of your family. If your peer circle holds any regular gatherings where intoxicating substances are shared, those are potential danger zones.


  • Decline invitations to any event where the expectation of drinking (however casually) is an inherent part. (And definitely avoid any event where illegal substances will be served.)
  • If you attend any event where alcohol will be among the refreshment options, plan in advance to minimize your exposure. If you can, confide your problem to the host and ask him/her to see that you aren’t even offered any drinks.
  • If you nonetheless find yourself facing someone who insists you take “just one” drink, don’t stand there in temptation’s sights—leave the event immediately.

Stress and Overload

The expression “driven to drink” acknowledges how tempting it can be to take the easy escape of drowning life’s stresses in artificial stupor.


  • Minimize stress by minimizing overload. Think at least three times before saying “yes” to any invitation you’re unsure of.
  • No matter how busy you are, make time for healthy meals and exercise breaks (rest breaks if your work is physical). You are particularly vulnerable to relapse when hungry, undernourished or fatigued.
  • Put half as much on your schedule as you think you’ll have time for. We all underestimate potential interruptions and overestimate our own abilities, so don’t tempt unnecessary overload.

Thinking Patterns

Developing new habits is not a particularly comfortable process. Since the brain where old thinking habits are ingrained is the same brain taxed with the work of reinventing those habits, it’s fighting a civil war—with the new habit going in as a lightly armed underdog. The conscious and ongoing determination needed to steer away from old habits can feel considerably less attractive than the comfort zone of surrender.


  • Remember that the initial agony of change is only temporary. When practiced consistently, new habits gain solid ground within a few weeks, and the better choice becomes much easier.
  • Avoid accommodating self-pity. You can’t always keep from feeling unhappy or tense, but you don’t have to feed it (and the adjoining relapse risk) by consciously thinking “It’s not fair, I don’t have any power at all.” Redirect your focus by doing someone else an unrequested favor, working on something you enjoy, or meditating on your blessings.

Remind yourself of what you’ve overcome.