Your Key to Alcohol Addiction Recovery: 15 Tips on Avoiding Triggers
Recovery from addiction is a gift, a key to unlocking your life’s full potential. It is a lifelong journey filled with a mix of accomplishments, challenges, lifestyle changes, hard choices, and the potential for pitfalls.
Recovery may also include periods of physical craving for alcohol, mental urges to drink, brief lapses, or prolonged episodes of alcohol relapse. A global pandemic continues to threaten our health as it upends millions of lives, and overwhelming feelings of uncertainty, disconnect, loss, fear, and anger can shake even the steadiest hands of those in recovery.
As great as the challenges may seem, you are not alone in your journey. Knowing yourself and your resources can make all the difference in maintaining your hard-won sobriety.
Here are 15 relapse prevention tips that you can begin practicing today to make tomorrow a brighter day.
Tip 1: Recognize Unhelpful Thought Patterns
Thoughts shape our beliefs, influence our feelings, and guide our actions. These can come in many forms, usually presenting as words you tell yourself, images that pop up in your mind, attitudes about yourself or others, beliefs, opinions, and memories.
Certain memories, experiences, and situations may trigger cravings or an urge to drink. Becoming aware of your thoughts can help you to recognize when you may be at higher risk of alcohol use. Here are some things to practice to help you manage the “stinking thinking” associated with addiction:
- Challenge beliefs that justify or romanticize alcohol use.
- Create a self-talk script to guide yourself through strong cravings.
- Counter harsh self-criticism with kind thoughts about yourself.
- Remember the negative consequences of alcohol use.
- Remember your goals and motivation for staying clean and sober.
- Notice and challenge distorted thoughts.
Tip 2: Notice Intense Moods and Feelings
Your feelings need attention too! While intimately connected to the way you think, your emotions and moods are experiences such as feeling mad, glad, hopeful, sad, bored, angry, depressed, or anxious. Feelings give color to your thoughts and can potentially shape the way you act in different situations.
If you wake up in a certain mood, your mind may become more susceptible to alcohol triggers and unhelpful thoughts. Avoiding painful emotions may seem like a workable solution; however, it is the same pattern of coping that alcohol triggers when used for self-medication.
These activities and practices can help you manage intense moods or feelings which challenge sobriety:
- Keep a journal or log identifying your daily moods and strong emotions.
- Record the thoughts that come with challenging emotions.
- Learn to recognize your body’s response to strong feelings.
- Acknowledge painful feelings and engage in sober self-care.
- Distract yourself or get grounded in the present moment.
The more we push away painful emotions, the stronger they may hit us. Though it takes practice, emotional self-care is crucial for maintaining lasting and successful recovery.
Tip 3: Give Your Body the Care It Deserves
Excessive and prolonged use of alcohol triggers potentially long-lasting damage to your physical health, up to and including death. Reviewing your body’s needs can improve your overall quality of life and reduce the risk of alcohol relapse.
Knowing how to effectively manage chronic pain can also reduce the urge to self-medicate. A strong physical self-care plan will include:
- A balanced diet that provides adequate nutrition
- Regular, restful sleep to recharge your body and mind
- Medically-approved exercise routines
- Regular medical check-ups for physical health maintenance
- Treatment for underlying medical conditions, such as chronic pain, which may impact recovery
Quitting use after extensive misuse of alcohol triggers potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.3 Detox from alcohol can be an especially critical time in a person’s recovery. Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? if you relapse and need to find a rehab center.
Tip 4: Distract to Relax
Diversion can offer a safe, sober way to survive strong cravings or urges to drink when used with intention. Waiting for a craving or an urge to pass means recognizing that the thoughts, feelings, and sensations are temporary. Safe ways to distract yourself include:
- Reading or coloring in a book
- Focusing on work or other important life activities
- Playing a game alone or with others
- Engaging in relaxing conversation
- Finding a safe place to ease your mind
Using distractions mindfully can allow you to weather the potential discomfort of withdrawal and abstinence until you are ready to focus on what’s important again. Be careful; distraction can become its own challenge when used without mindfulness.
Tip 5: Get Mindful
Mindfulness can be described as non-judgmental awareness of what you are experiencing in your inner and outer worlds. Compassionate awareness of your thoughts and feelings can help you remain connected to yourself, others, and your sobriety. Your mindfulness practice might include:
- Body scans
- Noticing your five senses of taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell
- Deep-breathing exercises
- Yoga meditation
- Guided imagery or meditation exercises
Tip 6: Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is a state of mind that fosters your ability to create meaning, hold onto appreciation, and cope with potentially stressful situations. Taking time every day to identify aspects of yourself, others, or the life that you appreciate can keep you grounded as you work to maintain recovery. Gratitude can be especially important when coping with feelings of boredom, depression, or anxiety.
Tip 7: Find Your Purpose
Knowing your motivation for maintaining recovery can serve as another pillar for relapse prevention. Take inventory of your core values and what you would like to move toward in your life. By creating this inventory, you can remain grounded in your personal purpose. When cravings or urges arise, you can then evaluate your options and reflect on what will bring you closer to your purpose.
Your values are different from your goals. Goals are targets to reach like making a certain amount of money or maintaining sobriety for at least today. Values are the guiding principles of your soul, an element of spirituality independent of religious belief. They can create a focus for your actions. A supportive, therapeutic relationship can help you clarify your values and begin living in your purpose.
Tip 8: Stay Connected
Living in isolation and disconnect can raise the risk of relapse, as people turn to alcohol to fill the void of unfulfilling relationships. In connecting with others, consider the quality of your relationships. Do the people in your life bring you closer to your values? Setting firm, flexible boundaries can support recovery and relapse prevention.
Professional connectors can help you plug back into meaningful relationships. Support groups have gone virtual. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, and SMART Recovery still operate to bridge the gap between you and a group of like-minded individuals seeking recovery. If you’re struggling with loneliness, professional support can provide direction in creating supportive bonds with others.
Tip 9: Prep for “The Occasion”
You might have an opportunity to proactively address relapse triggers before they arise. Staying connected with others may put you in a place where alcohol is readily available. Your relapse prevention plan can account for these circumstances. Anticipating a celebration or a potential crisis? Reflect on the potential thoughts and feelings that may arise.
Consider people you can call for support when the moment calls for it. Create scripts you can use to set limits with yourself and others in situations that may contain strong relapse triggers. Once you have chosen your preparation skills, practice them and then practice them again.
Tip 10: (Re)Balance Your Life
Maintaining your recovery and relapse prevention efforts may meaning reevaluating the people, places, and things you come into contact with. Take inventory of the different pieces of your self:
Learn to recognize when one part of your life begins to outweigh the others. Are you giving too much to work, friends, or distractions? The use of alcohol triggers a reduction in awareness, disinhibition, and risk of impulsivity. Regain balance by reflecting on what piece of your self-care puzzle needs attention.
Tip 11: Forgive Yourself
Some people find that relapse triggers a downward spiral. Learning to forgive yourself can help you to remain resilient through mistakes, challenges, lapses, and relapses. Holding onto shame, disappointment, regret, and resentment can create more distance between yourself and others.
People often find themselves attempting to escape the emotional distress associated with alcohol relapse. Forgiveness starts with recognizing the pain your actions may have caused to yourself or others. Forgiveness can be achieved through compassionate accountability and commitments to change for the better.
Tip 12: Stay Safe
Certain situations may create dangerous or seemingly inescapable circumstances. Exposure to violence, misuse, exploitation, or neglect can result in traumatic stress. When left untreated, traumatic memories and responses to trauma can increase your risk of relapse. Sometimes the use of drugs or alcohol triggers memories and reactions to previous trauma.
The onset of relapse triggers an increased risk of experiencing further trauma, especially if you lose your ability to make sound decisions due to intoxication. While alcohol can dull or numb feelings of fear and insecurity, relapse prevention and long-term recovery require constant attention to safety.
Recognizing signs of misuse, violence, or danger can help you to protect yourself. Whether you are coping with present circumstances or a history related to trauma, there are professionals waiting to assist you. Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? if you are at risk and need to find a treatment center.
Tip 13: Know Your Resources
Knowing who to call in a time of crisis can keep you or your loved ones out of harm’s way. Recovery from addiction can be a tough road but you do not have to walk it alone. These are just some of the many resources available to guide you through moments of crisis:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)
- National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673)
If you or a loved one is in danger, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency medical center for immediate support.
Tip 14: Plan for Recovery
A relapse prevention plan serves as a roadmap for maintaining recovery and working toward living in your values. Many of the tips and techniques discussed in this article can be added to your plan. This includes knowing triggers, activating coping skills, seeking support, connecting with a professional, and having a greater sense of purpose in your actions.
Understanding how motivation can change from moment to moment can help you maintain the positive efforts you have made in your journey to recovery. Recovery is not a straight line. Preparation can lead to action as you learn to live an addiction-free lifestyle.
Tip 15: Get Help When You Need It
Whether you are 5 months, 5 years, or 5 minutes into your recovery, there are treatment options that are right for you. Outpatient treatment can serve as a constant source of support as you navigate changes in your life and the world.
For more immediate and targeted support, residential care (inpatient rehab) may offer the comfort and support you need to kick-start or return to recovery.
Keep Moving Forward
Open the door to your life by holding onto your keys for recovery. Whichever stage of healing you are in, support awaits. The journey can hold success, personal milestones, new relationships, and clearer thinking.
Allow us to support you in keeping commitments and maintaining the changes you have worked so hard to make. Take charge of your life by seeking guidance from a Mental Health or Addiction Treatment professional today by calling 800-839-1686Who Answers?.
- TherapistAid. (2012). Cognitive distortions. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
- Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond (2nd ed.). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.
- TherapistAid. (2017). What is mindfulness. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
- Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48(2), 198.
- Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School. (April, 2019). Alcohol Withdrawal. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
- The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies & National Center for PTSD. (n.d.). Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems. Retrieved February 17, 2021.