Common Environmental Relapse Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Making the decision to change one’s overall environment and surroundings after rehab treatment can be a positive step to help overcome any lingering outside issues that may have led to the drug or alcohol addiction in the first place and may support recovery in many ways that can improve a person’s chances of maintaining sobriety and avoiding any possible relapse triggers.

In the field of addiction rehabilitation, the term ‘relapse triggers’ can mean a place, a person, a type of event, or any kind of experience that activates a craving for drugs or alcohol. For example, a smell such as the odor of alcohol or marijuana can serve as a reminder of past substance abuse in the same way that the smell of food grilling at a barbecue can stimulate a hunger response. A sensory experience alone can be enough to set off a strong craving for drugs or alcohol and may lead to relapse [1]. Some rehab facilities encourage those in recovery to simply avoid relapse triggers altogether, but this is not always possible as they must ultimately leave the controlled environment or the treatment facility in order to return to everyday life.

Related post: 10 Types of Therapy Used in Addiction Treatment

Everyday Environmental Triggers

After completing rehab treatment many individuals may find themselves returning to high-risk environments where friends or family members may unintentionally cause a recovering addict to relapse by consuming drugs or alcohol around them. In such cases, sober living homes can be an extremely beneficial transitional step for anyone in recovery who does not have a supportive, substance-free environment to return home to, or who is uncomfortable with making such a significant life change right away.

The first step in creating a less triggering environment for yourself is learning to identify exactly what your biggest triggers may be. Addiction counselors, especially those who specialize in behavioral therapy, can help you figure out what your triggers are, work with you to determine how best to avoid those triggers, and teach you techniques for coping with any triggers that you cannot avoid.

Discuss Your Recovery Goals With Family and Friends

While it may seem difficult to understand for those who have just been through the detox and rehabilitation process, there are times that many friends and family members may not understand what is expected when a recovering addict chooses to remain sober. Those who have not been through the process themselves may think a person in recovery is just acting dramatic or weak when choosing to remove themselves from situations where drugs and alcohol are likely to be present, which are unfortunately common stigmas related to addiction. Many have lost friends and cut ties with family as a result.

A negative reaction or lack of support from loved ones regarding such an important life decision can be stressful and heartbreaking if you’re on the receiving end. If your loved one is in addiction recovery, it’s worth taking the time to educate yourself on the subject so you can be an advocate who offers support rather than causes additional stress in their life.

Social Media’s Influence on Recovery

Social media in itself is a phenomenon that may also be referred to as ‘addicting’ as we increase our screen time to look at posts from friends and family and share snapshots about our own lives [2]. However, one of the most common environmental factors that can lead to relapse is seeing and hearing about drugs and alcohol. Social media has become such a normal part of everyday life that it’s often easy to forget how impactful it is. When making the transition from rehab to everyday life, it’s important to take a second look at and monitor the social media accounts that you follow and engage with. If you have a family member, friend, or even coworker who often posts pictures of themselves drinking at parties or clubs or if you follow certain celebrities who share a lot about their alcohol or drug use (particularly if it is a common theme in their social media presence), don’t follow them. Music also falls into this category. Listening to songs about drugs and alcohol desensitizes the mind to these things. Since sensory triggers are so powerful, you should try to avoid songs and other sounds that you listened to while using drugs or alcohol.

People share a common tendency to compare themselves with others and their successes, even when it is unintentional. If you have just completed an addiction treatment program, you might find that your self-esteem is still low and you are still working to repair your self-confidence and any relationships that may have been damaged by your addiction. You might see what others have accomplished and it might make you feel down about your treatment, which is why being too involved with social media could possibly have a negative impact on you during recovery.

Related post: How Can Therapy Support Addiction Recovery?

HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired

The HALT acronym is one that many people in recovery are familiar with, and those just completing a treatment program can often confuse any of these four feelings as a craving or need to use. Some of these most basic human needs can also lead to, or intensify, other triggers and cravings if they are not met. Being in any one of the four HALT states also reduces a person’s ability to cope with stress and can increase impulsiveness [3]. However, the feelings of being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired can be easily managed with some advance planning and structure. For example, deciding on the best way to plan meals, engaging in mindfulness, seeking out social support, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule can help you keep HALT feelings to a minimum.

Romanticizing Past Substance Abuse

A very common warning sign of relapse is the romanticizing of drug or alcohol abuse by viewing the past through “rose-colored glasses.” A person who is in recovery may begin to relive the days of their drug abuse and look back on them in a positive light. A positive view of all the perceived good times they had can be a dangerous trigger that plants the idea of using again in their mind.

Negative Emotions are Common Relapse Triggers

Negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness, shame, guilt, or anger are often primary reasons why people begin abusing drugs or alcohol in the first place. When these emotions return again during recovery, the brain remembers dealing and coping with them by using drugs or alcohol and this leads to cravings. While negative emotions are a normal part of everyday life and are impossible to avoid altogether, those in recovery should learn to use their coping skills to redirect these emotions in a manner this is not likely to result in a relapse.

Spending Time in Places Where Drugs and Alcohol Were Bought or Used

It is not always easy to avoid places where substances may be used, and alcohol presents its own particular set of challenges given that it is socially acceptable to drink in many different situations. When you’re reminded of your addiction, it’s important to have effective ways of handling your feelings. For example, if you’re an alcoholic in recovery and a group of former drinking buddies ask you to go out, or you see people from work going to happy hour, it might be helpful to have a specific response ready on hand to opt out of situations that you should avoid.

Eudaimonia Offers Hope in Recovery

Learning to recognize relapse triggers, getting help through counseling and therapy, and building a support network are all useful tools in preventing a relapse. At Eudaimonia Recovery Homes, we know the struggle of trying to achieve and maintain sobriety and can provide essential recovery support services and sober homes to help you or a loved one achieve lifelong recovery. Call us today at (512) 580-3130 or contact us online for more information.


  1. What to Do After a Relapse (verywellmind.com)
  2. Social Media Addiction – Addiction Center
  3. How Using the HALT Concept Prevents Alcohol Relapse | Alcoholics Anonymous

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