Avoiding Triggers That Will Lead to an Alcohol Relapse

by | Last updated Jun 12, 2023 | Published on Jun 17, 2020 | Alcohol, Relapse Prevention | 0 comments

avoiding alcohol triggers

Alcohol relapse triggers are social, environmental, or emotional circumstances that remind recovering addicts of their former alcohol use. These cues produce urges that could lead to relapse. Although triggers won’t force someone to use drugs or alcohol, they do increase the likelihood of using. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that 40 to 60 percent of individuals who’ve been previously treated for drug or alcohol addiction end up relapsing.

Long-term alcohol abuse produces a relationship in the brain that connects everyday routines and alcohol use activities. Individuals could experience uncontrollable alcohol cravings when exposed to particular triggers. The cravings are a reflex to internal or external triggers, and this response may even affect those who have refrained from alcohol use for an extended period.

External Triggers

External triggers are objects, places, people, and activities that evoke cravings linked with alcohol use. Patients in recovery can be sheltered from the risks of external triggers by producing strategies to avoid triggers that prompt their prior alcohol use. Patients should also be able to fight their alcohol cravings when they’re in triggering circumstances.

A study by NIDA found that cocaine-related images subconsciously provoked the emotional cores of former users’ brains. These underlying motives and cues set off a prompt activation of the circuitry linked with alcohol cravings.

The analysis affirmed that subconscious cues are hazardous because they augment the patient’s desire to begin consuming alcohol without them being conscious of it. Researchers highlighted the importance of evading the things, places, and people that remind them of their prior lifestyle.


People who are closest to the alcoholic could be a cause of cravings that ultimately lead to relapse. It is unsafe for patients in recovery to be around friends and family who are consuming alcohol. 

Even peers who refrain from alcohol can be hazardous. Offering alcohol to a former addict could trigger emotions that urge an alcoholic to use again.

Examples of people who could create cravings include:

  • Co-workers
  • Employers
  • Family members
  • Former drug dealers
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Spouses or partners

Loved ones might not recognize the effects of adverse behaviors toward patients in recovery. These behaviors can make the patient feel alienated and urge them to start consuming alcohol again.


High-risk places remind former alcohol abusers of the times they engaged in drinking to get drunk. Driving or walking through areas where alcoholics used to drink may spark a recollection related to alcohol use.

Some high-risk areas may include:

  • Bars
  • Clubs
  • Concerts
  • Downtown
  • Friend’s houses
  • Golf Courses
  • Hotels
  • Neighborhoods
  • Restaurants
  • Sporting venues
  • Worksites

Individuals can find different ways to avoid high-risk areas, such as areas or bars where they previously would hang out and binge drink.


Those at risk of relapse should avoid stressful circumstances that could urge them to start consuming alcohol again.

While holidays are a time to celebrate for most, they usually become a struggle for patients in recovery. Holiday parties that include social drinking can be complicated. Friends and family often tempt recovering addicts to consume alcohol because they believe that one drink will not be detrimental. 

Some high-risk situations for alcoholics come in two categories: events and behavioral activities.

Events such as:

  • Going out
  • Meeting new people
  • Recovery group meetings
  • Parties
  • Payday
  • Calls from creditors
  • Before, during, and after work
  • Before, during, and after sex
  • Anniversaries
  • Holidays
  • Family gatherings

Behavioral activities, such as:

  • Listening to a specific music genre
  • Going out to eat or dance
  • Hanging out with friends who are consuming alcohol
  • Driving
  • After paying bills
  • Before or during a date
  • Alone at home
  • After an argument
  • Chatting on the phone
  • While eating lunch or dinner

Patients in addiction treatment might contemplate skipping support group meetings or treatment sessions to spend time with friends and family. A rift in the cycle can leave times of isolation where patients might become inclined to consume alcohol again.

Internal Triggers

Internal triggers are a more significant challenge in managing than external triggers. They include thoughts, feelings, and emotions previously linked with alcohol abuse. 

When internal triggers occur, they could lead to problematic behaviors that hinder addiction recovery progress. Vulnerability to these cues may cause addicts to crave and use alcohol again.

Here are some examples of emotions that could serve as internal triggers.

Negative Feelings:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Hate
  • Irritation
  • Jealousy
  • Loneliness
  • Overconfidence
  • Shame

Normal Feelings:

  • Boredom
  • Embarrassment
  • Frustration
  • Insecurity
  • Loneliness
  • Neglect
  • Nervousness
  • Pressure
  • Relaxation
  • Sadness
  • Tiredness

Positive Feelings:

  • Celebratory feelings
  • Confidence
  • Excitement
  • Happiness
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling normal
  • Passion
  • Sexual arousal
  • Strength

A person can identify the feelings that could trigger a relapse by questioning themselves:

  • How do I feel before consuming alcohol?
  • How do I want to think before drinking alcohol?
  • Within the last week, how did I feel when craving alcohol?

Patients in recovery must be conscious of the internal triggers they struggle with most and have a method ready to seek support.

The Stages of Relapse

When patients in recovery submit to triggers, their brains produce rationalization to consume alcohol despite comprehending that remaining sober is their goal. This continuous conflict heightens their vulnerability to cravings, which could result in relapse.

Emotional Relapse

Previous alcohol users will be in denial throughout an emotional relapse, but they won’t have intentions of using. They’ll feel ashamed of a past time they relapsed and have acquired negative behaviors to cope with their feelings. This state of mind is hazardous because it prompts harmful health practices that may lead to a full-blown relapse.

Signs of emotional relapse include:

  • Avoiding AA meetings
  • Bad eating and sleeping habits
  • Being reserved at meetings
  • Focusing on other peers issues
  • Holding back emotions
  • Isolation

During therapy for patients undergoing emotional relapse, they are urged to recognize their opposition and focus on self-care.

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is the constant struggle between desiring to drink and knowing you should not drink. Individuals frequently disparage the risks of circumstances and end up relapsing by justifying it’s only a one-time thing. They’ll allow themselves to consume alcohol in a controlled manner, but the repetition of drinking will usually escalate until it’s a full-blown relapse.

Signs of a mental relapse:

  • Actively seeking chances to relapse 
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Bargaining
  • Glamorizing former drinking habits
  • Lying
  • Plotting a relapse
  • Plotting to control your drinking better
  • Thoughts of places, people, and anything linked to a drinking

Learning coping skills can help individuals in managing their urges to drink.

Physical Relapse

A physical relapse happens the moment the alcoholic starts to drink again after an extended period of sobriety. It is the conclusion of a mental relapse and an emotional relapse. 

Physical relapses are a challenging level of relapse to succeed. In a majority of cases, drinkers cave to consuming alcohol when opportunities arise and wrongly think it causes no harm.

Identifying Triggers

External triggers are more obvious to recognize and control than internal ones. Alcohol abuse treatment strives to help patients understand the initial warning signs of relapse and acquire healthy coping skills to prevent a possible relapse.

Managing External Triggers

Triggers that occur outside of the alcoholic are not inevitably beyond control. There are various reminders of alcohol use in a former drinker’s life, places, people, and objects.

Asking precise questions and taking the proper steps can enable patients in recovery to healthily transition back to their regular life without jeopardizing a relapse.

Recovering alcoholics can carry out particular exercises where they write out a list of the places, people, or objects that prompt them of their alcohol-consuming lifestyle. Listed below are some examples of the specific questions that asking about external triggers could help prevent relapse.

Eliminating alcohol triggers and cravings

  • Do you believe a future event or circumstance will prompt alcohol consumption cravings?
  • Are you currently in a scenario that triggers alcohol cravings? Can you leave?
  • Are you stuck in a place that makes you think about drinking?
  • Were you recently in a location that sparked a thought about drinking?
  • What alcoholic drinks do you have in your home or your car?
  • What things did you use while consuming alcohol?
  • Do you have a non-drinking friend or family member who can clean your house from things that remind you of your drinking days?
  • How quickly can you arrange for your friend or family member to rid your home of all alcohol?

Avoiding alcohol drinkers

  • Whom did you usually drink with?
  • Where were your former drinking spots?
  • Do you still have their contact information?
  • What steps can you take to prevent contact with your alcohol-consuming peers?
  • Do you have loved ones who are drinkers?
  • How can you address the situation if they’re still drinking?

Avoiding High-Risk Areas

  • What streets, bars, houses, neighborhoods, or other locations do you correlate with alcohol use?
  • Do you face this every day while going to work, school, or on the way to treatment?
  • Can you bypass high-risk areas?
  • Do you have a plan to avoid these areas?
  • Do you know what to say to resist alcohol and leave the scene when you’re pressured?

Managing Internal Triggers

Recovering alcoholics will develop new thoughts, feelings, and reactions while consuming alcohol. These may include shutting out loved ones, denying problems, or justifying alcohol consumption. Healthier methods need to substitute those negative internal triggers to help patients succeed in their path to sobriety.

Listed below are some examples of questions recovering alcoholics can ask themselves to help them recognize their internal thoughts and feelings.

  • How do I shut down my feelings?
  • What are the advantages and dangers of shutting off from family and friends?
  • How can I correct this?
  • How did I shift my thoughts to avoid real life?
  • Did avoiding real-life help?
  • How can I improve that behavior?
  • Do I engage in certain acts to evade difficult situations?
  • What are the pros and cons of these behaviors?
  • What kinds of practices would be more healthy?

Patients in the early stages of recovery that can recognize and successfully respond to triggers will have the highest chances of long-term sobriety.

Tips for Preventing and Reducing Relapse

Listed below are some helpful tips for avoiding relapse:

  • Attend all therapy sessions
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Be self-reliant and don’t expect anything from others
  • Eat a balanced diet 
  • Evade places or people that are linked to previous alcohol use
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get enough sleep
  • Keep your mind occupied
  • Learn a creative endeavor
  • Request help when needed
  • Seek out a support group and attend meetings frequently
  • Surround yourself with a supportive group
  • Take any prescribed medications as directed
  • Try holistic techniques for managing stress
  • Undergo a psychological evaluation to assure any co-occurring disorders are maintained

To relapse upon completing addiction treatment doesn’t imply that treatment failed. However, it does mean that a return to some addiction treatment is required. If a relapse happens, measures should be taken to decrease the severity and continuation of the relapse. 

Frequently, a different treatment form or method would be recommended to keep the relapse from advancing. Realizing that stress is a frequent relapse trigger, and understanding how to manage possible stressors and maintaining controlled moods, may help.

The Environmental Aspect of Recovery

Individuals surrounding environments and support systems play crucial roles in the recovery process and help addicts to avoid relapse. Family therapy and treatment sessions can help loved ones recognize the disease of alcohol addiction better and allow them to learn and identify relapse triggers and how to prevent them. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that roughly 8.9 million American adults are experiencing both a mental health and addiction disorder of some sort.

Communication techniques and family dynamics will improve through the family therapy process. Family support is extremely beneficial during the recovery process. A supportive environment will help to minimize stress and relapse triggers.

Surrounding oneself with those who are committed to sobriety is also essential, as these support groups can provide healthy assistance. 12-Step programs and support groups offer enduring support throughout recovery. 

Studies have shown that patients who’ve received help for alcohol addiction and engaged in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) had a minor chance of relapsing.

Recognizing and Treating Co-Occurring Conditions

Underlying mental or medical health conditions, such as PTSD can be possible relapse triggers. However, by treating both disorders simultaneously, recovery is possible. Integrated treatment programs that treat co-occurring disorders concurrently are vital in helping to maintain both disorders and allow long-term recovery for both conditions.

Alcohol use may appear to provide momentary relief for mental illness symptoms, but in reality, alcohol abuse conflicts with treatment for mental illness and will make symptoms more dangerous. By treating both disorders concurrently, symptoms will improve, and relapse can be avoided.

Get Help with Avoiding Triggers and Alcohol Relapse

Alcohol addiction and relapsing after an extended period of sobriety is a terrifying situation to overcome. However, the sequence of addiction can end with the proper form of treatment. Do not hesitate any longer to get help for alcohol addiction. 

Whether it’s your first time enrolling in rehab or if continued support is needed, our team at The Freedom Center can help you through this difficult time. To learn more about alcohol relapse and how to avoid triggers, contact us here

Written by: Nick B.

Nicholas B. is the Corporate Director of Admissions for our substance abuse and behavioral health company. Nick’s mission is to provide quality care to every person that reaches out regarding substance abuse or behavioral health questions. Knowledge of an ever-changing industry, compassion when dealing with people, and compliance in every decision are the forces that drive his personal and professional growth.

Related Articles

A Life Free From Addiction Is Possible

Our admissions coordinators are available 24/7.
(888) 530-5023
Skip to content