“Our inner beliefs (can) trigger failure before it happens.” – Marshall Goldsmith, NY Times bestselling author & considered “World’s Most Influential Business Thinker” (2018 Thinkers50 List)
[Note to Reader: This is PART TWO of a two-part blog-post on addressing relapse triggers in recovery. It will help to have read Part One, especially since it covers the dimension of identifying your personal relapse triggers. In this post, we’ll focus on effective ways to avoid and manage those triggers.]
Whether you’re in an alcohol treatment program, drug rehab for doctors, lawyers, pharmacists or other professionals, or any of a number of 12 Step programs, having an understanding of relapse prevention is vital for achieving and maintaining ongoing recovery from addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states 40-60% of those treated for substance abuse disorders relapse. Therefore, knowing how to deal with “triggers”—external and internal cues associated with alcohol or drug use, which may lead one to relapse—will increase the likelihood of your staying “clean and sober.”
Certainly, addiction treatment specialists (doctors, counselors and staff) will unanimously agree that avoiding “high-risk” situations and properly addressing (i.e., managing) less risky, yet potentially challenging situations are both key to continued abstinence. What are some of the ways you can smartly and effectively avoid or manage such situations?
1) Let people know in advance you’ll be skipping the event that for you is a potential trigger. Whether it’s announcing to family members you won’t be able to attend their gathering or alerting your co-workers you can’t attend the annual convention this year (“for personal reasons” is often a suitable enough reason to give) or anything in between, you’ll likely get less flak and more support if you give those associated with the event a heads-up in advance.
2) Create healthy options for yourself, alternatives to the “triggering event” that you can attend and enjoy comfortably, far removed from “risk factors” that could challenge your sobriety and peace of mind. Along those lines, it can be helpful to schedule your free time to include “safe and sane” events, i.e., those where you know for sure no one in attendance will be using alcohol or drugs.
3) Always bringing someone along with you from your recovery network to any event where the presence of triggers is unknown is highly advisable. This way, you’re ensuring you have the support of someone who cares about your staying sober and can help you safely navigate your way, if you unexpectedly encounter triggers of any sort.
4) When it comes to past associations—people you’ve drank or used with in days gone by—the most effective, time-tested approach to avoiding contact with them is to, wherever possible, stop all forms of contact and disable their ability to contact you. Although it may seem extreme at first, this approach has proven itself to be a life-saver and less traumatic than most people imagine it to be. (The truth is, once most people find out you’re seeking recovery from addiction—often enough “through the grapevine”—they respect your decision and give you your space to live the way you see fit.)
By having clearly identified your personal relapse triggers and creating a game plan in advance for how you can best avoid or address these triggers, you’re strengthening your recovery toolkit with awareness, options and action steps, thereby decreasing the chance for a relapse and increasing the likelihood you’ll continue growing and enjoying your new life in recovery… one day at a time.