How to Cope With High-Risk Situations in Addiction Recovery

woman trying to cope with a high-risk situationIn life, it is normal to face difficult circumstances or stressful situations that cause emotional distress and internal conflict. However, when an addicted person faces these types of situations, he or she may use alcohol or drugs to cope instead of learning how to “deal with life on life’s terms.”

An essential part of sustaining your sobriety is learning how to face difficult life circumstances without relying on addictive substances to cope. In early recovery, you are likely to face situations that may increase your risk for relapse, but having the tools and skills to handle those situations sober will help you sustain your sobriety long-term.

What is a High-Risk Situation?

Any situation or event that poses a threat to your recovery is considered a high-risk situation.1 High-risk situations can either be related to your emotional state or it can be a consequence of your external surroundings.

A high-risk situation may pose a threat to your recovery in several different ways. Although it may not cause you to return to your drug abuse right away, it can burrow in deep and fester. For example, a situation that makes you feel depressed, isolated, and lonely can lead to severe internal turmoil and make you feel like there’s no way out without drugs.

Conversely, simply returning to a club or a friend’s home where you used to use drugs regularly can result in strong cravings and a sudden desire to use again.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid all high-risk situations, but having a relapse prevention plan will help you respond in a way that is both healthy and responsible.

Examples of Common High-Risk Situations in Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery is a highly individualized experience, so not all people will struggle to face the same situations. As mentioned above, a high-risk situation may be emotional or environmental, but research shows unpleasant emotions and physical discomfort are the most prevalent reasons for relapse.2

Here are a few examples of common high-risk situations in addiction recovery:

  • Experiencing very negative emotions like depression, loneliness, sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, or fear
  • Experiencing very positive emotions like excitement, joy, or love
  • Experimenting with controlled use on “special occasions”
  • Being alone or isolated
  • Dwelling on thoughts about getting high or drunk
  • Experiencing physical pain
  • Being around people who are drinking alcohol or abusing drugs
  • Visiting a location where you used to get high
  • Getting a paycheck or tax return
  • Attending an event like a birthday party, a wedding, a New Year’s Eve celebration, or a similar celebratory occasion
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    Mindful Decision-Making for Relapse Prevention

    Since you are likely to experience many of the situations or emotions listed above, practicing mindfulness in everyday decisions can help you prepare for any unanticipated circumstances and prevent relapse.

    On the other hand, making decisions that increase your vulnerability to relapse will make it more difficult to cope with high-risk situations.3 Examples could be:

    • Keeping alcohol or drugs in your home
    • Maintaining relationships with people who are still actively abusing drugs and alcohol
    • Using drugs or alcohol secretly or on special occasions
    • Attending events where drug and alcohol abuse are likely to occur

    Any decision that reduces accountability or makes drugs or alcohol more accessible also makes a relapse more likely. As a result, many sober living clients and people in recovery work closely with an AA sponsor, sober coach, or House Manager to develop strategies for preventing and dealing with high-risk situations.

    How to Cope With High-Risk Situations: 5 Steps

    If you are new to recovery, knowing how to cope with high-risk situations is an essential skill. Although you are likely to cover these steps with your sponsor, sober coach, or therapist, here are five simple steps that will help you cope with high-risk situations.

    1. Develop a proactive mindset. Having the right mindset is a key aspect of preventing relapse. If you expect your recovery to be nothing but sunshine and rainbows, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed when the pink cloud disappears. On the other hand, acknowledging that there will be challenges ahead and working to build your confidence will help you address them head-on when they do pop up.
    2. Anticipate high-risk situations before they occur. Understanding the nature of addiction and the impact certain situations and emotions can help you anticipate trouble and prepare for it. If you anticipate possible high-risk situations, you won’t be taken off guard when they occur and you’ll be better able to manage them.
    3. Develop a plan with your sober coach/mentor/or counselor. If you know how you will deal with a problem before it arises, you can jump into action right away. Otherwise, you may behave impulsively and make the wrong decision, even if you wanted to do what was right.
    4. Practice, practice, practice. IOP and sober living programs act as a buffer between rehab and the real world, providing you with the unique opportunity to practice your coping skills before you’re back on your own. Relapse happens, but if it happens under the safety net of your support system and sober house manager, you can get the help and support you need to get back on track right away and learn from your mistakes.
    5. Create a list of safe spaces and people. Some days in recovery will be more difficult than others. Making a list of safe people and places you can rely on to support you through cravings and triggers is an excellent way to safeguard your sobriety and anticipate high-risk situations.

    Relapse Doesn’t Mean You’ve Failed, Get Back on Track Today

    If you’ve already relapsed due to a high-risk situation and you’re struggling to get back on track, the staff members at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes are here for you. Call us today and let us help you reclaim your sobriety and strengthen your self-efficacy and resolve with intensive outpatient programming and safe, supportive sober living homes.



    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64948/
    2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080483/
    3. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh23-2/151-160.pdf
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