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How to Talk to Family About Your Relapse Triggers


Talking to loved ones about relapse triggers can be uncomfortable. Still, it’s necessary to achieve long-term sobriety and addiction recovery. Talking about addiction relapse triggers can also help you develop accountability partners.

What is a Relapse in Addiction Recovery?

To understand relapse in addiction recovery, it’s first helpful to understand more about addiction itself. Addiction is the term for multiple chronic diseases, such as substance use disorders and alcohol use disorders. Chronic conditions are marked by the compulsion to seek drugs or alcohol, even when they are active, and cause negative consequences. Addiction occurs in the brain’s use/reward centers and causes considerable behavioral changes. 

A relapse is only possible once an individual has committed to a period of non-use that is often called remission. The relapse is, more specifically, the recurrence of the disordered behavior or thinking that led to the active addiction disease in the first place. 

During a relapse, a person in recovery will feel motivated to return to using. A single use is a lapse and doesn’t necessarily indicate a full relapse. It can lead to it if recovery activities are not immediately resumed with new dedication. 

This lapse can cause the individual to feel guilty or even ashamed of their actions and can result in the desire to return to the prior use patterns. Once a relapse happens, the most important thing for the individual is getting back into active recovery programming.

How Common Are Relapses-The Statistics

Relapses are common enough that they are considered an integral part of the recovery process for many people. Relapse is one of the hallmarks of addiction. It is expected that a portion of people entering recovery will eventually relapse one or more times before finding a way to quit successfully. 

In the “stages of changes” recovery model, relapse is even an official stage. People will often avoid thinking about quitting, then consider quitting, take active steps to quit, and finally, relapse. This cycle may need to repeat several times for some people to be able to quit successfully.

Contrary to what many people think, relapse rates do not indicate they have failed recovery. It is not a sign of weakness or worthlessness in the person that has relapsed. It can cause some people to abandon their drive to quit. 

Still, in the big picture, it is a relatively normal part of addiction recovery. It’s also healthier for the recovering person to understand that they didn’t fail by relapsing. They’ve just moved on to the next stage of the recovery process.

The Stages of a Relapse

Many people in recovery don’t realize that a relapse isn’t a singular event; it’s a process. It starts with a risk of relapse, progresses to an emotional relapse, and progresses to a mental one; the final stage is the physical relapse. Here are the signs of relapse and their stages.


Emotional relapse is when the person is not actively thinking about using the substance again. However, they are behaving in a way that may place them at an elevated risk of using drugs in the future. This may include increasing isolation, experiencing anxiety, poor self-care, and having a small social support network.


Mental relapse is when the person actively thinks about using substances and perhaps romanticizes their past use. This can even be looking back with fondness on periods of use or people or places they are now missing in recovery. 


Physical relapse is the final stage when the person begins using the substance problematically again. Single-use is just a lapse; a relapse is continued use, behavioral changes, and discontinuation of recovery commitment. 

Relapse Triggers-Explained

A nearly endless array of factors can trigger relapses. The triggers for relapse can be from a wide range of categories, such as mental health triggers, chronic health issues, substance cravings, and situational factors. Each can affect the individual differently, with each having a unique and personal seriousness or severity. 

What are the Top 5 Relapse Triggers?

There are countless relapse triggers, and one person’s triggers may not be identical to another’s. That said, here are the five top relapse triggers:

  • Times of celebration
  • Seeing, smelling, or otherwise sensing the object of addiction
  • Powerful emotions, whether positive or negative
  • People, places, or things that are connected to the addictive behavior in some way
  • Untreated mental illness
How Do You Talk to Loved Ones About Your Relapse Triggers?

Before you talk about relapse triggers to your loved ones, take time to prepare, and you’ll feel much better about the situation overall. Here are some tips.

Make Notes

First, if you aren’t good at getting put on the spot, make some notes ahead of time. This will let you put some thoughts down and keep them organized for your talk about relapse triggers.

Ask Them To Support, Not Judge

Make sure they know you’d like your loved ones’ help and support, not judgment. Let them know you are entering or planning on entering treatment and that having support would make it much more manageable.

Be Honest

They will have questions, so ensure you have honest and straightforward answers ready for them. 

Ask For Help Being Accountable

Ask for help with accountability for addiction recovery so you have a better shot at maintaining your recovery long-term.

What if I Need Help Talking to My Loved Ones?

One of the great places to talk about how to discuss recovery needs and how to incorporate family into them is 12-step program options like Alcoholics Anonymous. If you head to SAMHSA, you can read more about how those with active addictions and mental disorders can communicate with their families, allowing them to engage in their recovery process actively.

Reach out to Agape Treatment Center for Advice/Programs That Can Help

Suppose you or someone you are close to requires advice or programs to help you on the journey to recovery. In that case, Agape is the local leader in patient-centered addiction treatment. By reaching out to Agape today, you can speak with a recovery plan expert and begin planning a long-term recovery. 

Call the Agape Treatment Center admissions team at 888-614-0077 to learn more about what our addiction and mental health facilities can do for you or your loved one.

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