Resources for Families, Individuals and Professionals

Manage Sobriety by Avoiding Relapse Triggers

Ask the Experts by Marilyn Spiller

Q: I have been in recovery from substance abuse for almost a year now. I constantly worry about maintaining my sobriety and want to know how to deal with triggers that I encounter?

A: A trigger is an event that gives someone the perceived justification to return to addictive behavior. These can be internal or external, and both can be equally disturbing to your new sober lifestyle.

In early recovery, it’s best to avoid situations that can be a trigger. If avoidance isn’t possible, plan, in advance, to create a new reward to replace the “false reward” of alcohol or other drugs.

Universal relapse triggers can include:

  • Vacations: be honest with yourself. If you are planning a vacation with people who drink or use, you may want to cancel.
  • Alone time: when it comes to long-term recovery, community is key. Be accountable to as many people and activities as you can schedule. Get out of the house.
  • Sporting events/tailgating: This might be one to avoid altogether in early recovery – especially tailgating. If you can’t avoid it – arrive for kickoff and leave as soon as the game is over.
  • Parties/holidays: arrive early and leave early. BYO mocktails.
  • Open bottles and pill bottles: there is no excuse for having open bottles of alcohol or pills in your house. Why tempt fate?
  • Familiar places (streets, liquor stores, grocery stores, etc): If the street corner where you bought your drugs is near work, take a scenic route to avoid it. Do not go into your local liquor store. Avoid the wine aisle in the grocery store.
  • Changing seasons: seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. Take stock of your feelings when it hits. Then get outside in the fresh air and go for a walk.

In general, when cravings hit, you should acknowledge it and make some noise. Pick up the phone and call a sober friend, get to a meeting, but do not suffer in silence or think you should handle it on your own. In early recovery you are learning to ask for help. The best thing to do is listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Marilyn Spiller is a writer, speaker, sober coach and recovery advocate with a 20-year history of international hobnobbing and outrageous over-drinking. Four years sober, Marilyn is the Director of Marketing for Sanford House Addiction Treatment Centers. Sanford House offers residential and non-residential treatment for addiction. Find out more at or call 844.776.9651. Sanford House Addiction Treatment Centers is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

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