Signs of Relapse & Triggers to Be Aware Of

One key factor of recovery is learning about and acknowledging common triggers that may cause an individual to relapse. When a person goes through the treatment process, they become aware of what led them to drink or abuse drugs in the first place. By avoiding or eliminating addictive triggers, it becomes easier to stay on the path to sobriety.

While relapse triggers are not always obvious or easy to spot, it is important to keep an eye out for them in order to remedy them before they turn into bigger problems. Triggers won’t look the same for every person however, here area few common triggers and signs of relapse.

Missed Recovery Support Meetings

One of the tell-tale signs that someone may be on the verge of relapse is they’ve suddenly turned away from their support system. Just like anyone else, those in recovery have good and bad days. More good days than bad is ideal, but it doesn’t mean a person is “healed” from their alcoholism or addiction.

Support group meetings are an ongoing part of the recovery process. Recovery is not a passive phase. Programs are put in place for a reason. They must be attended to on a consistent basis and taken seriously enough to maintain a schedule, even if it feels they may not be necessary. Keep an eye out if your family member is suddenly skipping meetings because they are too busy or insist they don’t need to attend. It can be a telltale sign of relapse.

Hanging Out with Bad Influences

When someone makes the decision to become sober, they must say good-bye to their old way of life. Oftentimes, this means letting go of drinking pals or those they know who use drugs. In order to maintain your own sobriety, it’s important that you are not faced with these temptations day in and day out.

When the holidays roll around and old faces pass through and connect out of the blue, it may make a person in recovery feel nostalgic. But if you see a friend or loved one hanging around with friends that don’t support their sobriety, you need to reach out and see what you can do to help as this is a common relapse warning sign. It may seem harmless at the time, but it can be all too easy to start using again. Avoiding these negative influences gives your loved one a better shot at sticking to his or her sobriety.

Secrecy and Sneaking Around

Sudden elusive behavior or not admitting to where they’re going or where they’ve been can be a sign of relapse. Although no one wants to jump to conclusions, if you are concerned, share your concern with your family member. Give them the benefit of the doubt to explain their actions or confirm they aren’t using again. Approach the situation calmly so that your concern isn’t misinterpreted as an accusation. After all, it’s their well-being and health that is at stake.

Outbursts or Mood Swings

When a person doesn’t have a handle on their feelings, it might make most sense to them to turn to the bottle or start using again. If you recognize short tempers or signs of instability, it can be a sign of relapse. Don’t take lightly the feelings of others. Pull your family member aside in a quiet moment or schedule time at a later date to check in and ask how they are feeling.

The Three Main Stages of Relapse

A study by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine breaks down relapse into three main levels: emotional, mental, and physical. Relapse happens gradually, which makes being aware of signs and addiction triggers even more important to prevent it from occurring.

Emotional Stage

In the emotional stage, individuals aren’t consciously wanting to use, but may be remembering their last relapse or when they were at their rock bottom and are fearful of repeating it. Relapse symptoms to watch out for in this stage include many of the signs listed above, such as missing or not sharing at support meetings, keeping emotions closed off, and isolation. People in this stage may also experience a lack of appetite and bouts of insomnia.

As a loved one, ask yourself if your friend or family member in recovery is actively practicing self-care. Do they seem extra anxious or stress-ridden? Have they been unable to sleep or eat on a consistent schedule? A person who is in the emotional stage of relapse may not outwardly be showing signs of a potential relapse. It may take some prompting to ensure the person feels supported and is taking care of themselves in a healthy way.

In its early stages, emotional relapse doesn’t seem as harmful as the rest of the stages. Eventually, the worrying or denial of a problem will lead to restless or irritable behavior, which as it builds, can lead to addiction relapse.

Mental Stage

This stage may be more difficult for family members and loved ones to identify and address. The feelings someone is going through during recovery may be well hidden from others. During a mental relapse, a recovering addict may begin craving alcohol or drugs again. They may start thinking about people or places associated with their use in the past and begin to minimize their actions of the past.

In this phase, a person who has gone through treatment and is in recovery may feel like they have what it takes to not “get out of hand” or can handle the idea of using again on their own. It’s during this phase that it is most helpful to avoid any situations where temptation will be around.

A drink at a party or a glass of wine at a family dinner may appear relatively harmless, but for a person recovering from addiction, it can be the first step towards a downwards spiral. Rather than testing those limits or “bargaining” for just one drink, it’s a wiser decision to opt out as much as possible. Whether that means not attending such events altogether or choosing a non-alcoholic alternative, the desire to drink can easily be reignited with just a few sips.

Physical Relapse

This is the stage where a person actually uses again. The use of any controlled substance, no matter how small, can easily lead someone into a full-on relapse.

If addictive triggers aren’t identified early on, it may be hard to realize the likelihood of a physical relapse because there may not have been any significant relapse warning signs before.

It’s always a good idea for family members to check in and ask questions, if concerned. A simple “how have you been feeling?” can mean a lot to a person struggling with their sobriety. An invitation to coffee or a walk around the neighborhood might be a good distraction for someone who feels overwhelmed by the desire to use again.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of relapse or experiencing issues in the recovery process, call 888-481-4481 to speak to a medical professional at Casa Palmera and get the help and support you


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.