Top 7 Relapse Triggers


Before we get into discussing potential relapse triggers to be aware of, we think it is important to address what a relapse actually is. What is a relapse? A relapse, in terms of substance abuse and related recovery efforts, is characterized by a return to active drug use or alcohol use after a period of intentional abstinence. Relapse has a negative connotation in the substance abuse treatment and for good reason. That being said, it is not necessarily a “final failure”, and many individuals who relapse return to abstinence in recovery after varying periods of use. We have compiled a list of the Top 7 Relapse Triggers. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it is important to note that relapse triggers can and will be different for different individuals.

Most Common Relapse Triggers


Individuals who participated in your addictive behavior in some form or fashion can be a relapse trigger regardless of if they are still actively using or drinking. That is to say, even people who you used to use or drink with that are now in recovery could be a potential trigger for relapse. We recommend avoiding these types of interactions whenever possible in early recovery. Ideally after some work on yourself and time in recovery you will be able to be without being triggered so long as you have good reason to be there.


Much like people, places that you frequented during your addictive behavior can be relapse triggers. The reasoning is the same. Before you have built a solid foundation of recovery something as simple as a memory brought on by visiting an old hangout could be a relapse trigger. As with individuals who participated in your addictive behaviors we recommend avoid places that you frequented while drinking or using. With time and after doing some internal work on yourself you will be less affected by locational triggers and may get to a point where they do not bother you at all.


Things consist of objects or paraphernalia that was a part of your drinking or drug use. Some of these will seem obvious, shot glasses, wine glasses, needles, straws, pipes and various other items that are directly tied to drinking or using. These are self explanatory and fairly easy to avoid. There are other less obvious items, and these will vary from person to person based on substance of choice and a whole host of other factors. Some of the more popular ones are: q-tips, belts, bottle caps, spoons, vinegar, bar style peanuts, cigarettes and cigars. This list could be increased indefinitely but the point is each of these items have an alternate purpose and thus mental association for individuals with a history of substance abuse. It is important to identify these more hidden triggers and avoid them if possible in early recovery.

Dating, Sex and Relationships

This is a hotly contested subject, and has been for some time, in the recovery community. If you ask 10 different individuals for their opinion, it is likely you will receive 10 very different responses. Opinions aside, the fact remains that dating, and relationships can definitely be powerful relapse triggers. The reason for this is very simple, they involve intense emotions. Intense emotions, especially negative ones, are one of the most powerful relapse triggers in existence. For an individual in early recovery we encourage total avoidance if possible like we would with any other relapse trigger. This is not to say relationships, sex, and dating are negative things. When someone is fragile emotionally like is common in early recovery relationships, sex, and dating can be overwhelming.

Social Isolation

It has been said that addiction or alcoholism is a disease that grows in the dark. What does this mean? It means that alcoholism and addiction can lead an individual to isolate which allows them to fall deeper and deeper into their problem. It is a vicious cycle and we see the effects of it day in and day out. The logical solution to a problem rooted in isolation then, would be connection and community. That is why connection and community are core tenets of recovery programs. But social isolation does not necessarily end just because an individual becomes abstinent. Social Isolation is fairly common in early recovery and can be a painful relapse trigger. Avoiding isolation in recovery isn’t always so simple. For many their substance use was so intertwined with their life that there aren’t many people who are healthy for them to be around in early recovery. This is where joining a self group comes in. Self Help groups whether it be Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Refuge Recovery, or any other self help group you identify with, are a powerful tool for combating social isolation. They promote a sense of community and are a great place to meet other people in recovery.


Stress is the silent killer of relapse triggers. It does not typically cause an immediate moment of intense craving and can not usually be traced back to a single event or situation. Stress is a subtle foe and usually works similarly to a volcano with small incremental problems left unaddressed leading to an eventual explosion or in the case of someone in recovery, a relapse. Unlike the other triggers on this list, avoidance is not a good strategy with stress. Stress is an unavoidable part of life. Stress needs to be handled head on though stress management and coping skills. That being said, stress that can be avoided in early recovery should be avoided.


Money can be a relapse trigger for many in early recovery. It can work both ways. Money problems and lack of money can lead to stress and eventual relapse just as easily as a surplus of money can lead to temptation and eventual relapse. Much like stress unfortunately money cannot be avoided. So what is the answer? The answer lies not in avoiding money but  in coping with the feelings and emotions associated with the surplus or lack of money.


If you or someone you know if struggling with substance abuse or has recently relapsed please reach out to us for a now obligation consultation to discuss how you can help. You can call us at 855-698-3554 or directly at 201-663-2914. If you prefer to communicate via email please submit an inquiry HERE for an immediate response or email us directly at