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5 Common Triggers for the Newly Sober and How to Handle Them

The majority of people struggling with addiction relapse at least one time before they achieve long-term sobriety. Being newly sober comes with a lot of challenges and complex emotions that are difficult to handle without that substance of choice. Even with FDA-approved treatments such as naloxone, suboxone, or methadone, 2/3 of individuals still, relapse after their first attempt at sobriety. Recognizing these triggers can help you or a loved one beat the odds. Here are the top 5.

1. Stress and Anxiety

Newly sober individuals are not equipped to handle stress healthily. They are used to using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for any difficult situation that comes their way. Newly sober people tend to want a substance more during stressful circumstances, which makes handling the situation even more difficult.

The best way to handle stress is to create a plan and eliminate unnecessary chaos. This requires reevaluating friendships, relationships, jobs, or other stress-inducing situations. While it’s not a good idea to eliminate all stress (as this can be stressful in and of itself), there are several different unnecessary stressors that addicts tend to hoist on themselves. Finding solutions to problems, talking to your sponsor, and dealing with one problem at a time are all great ways to deal with stress in your life. Meditation, exercise, and positive thinking are other tried and true methods that help mitigate stress and anxiety.

2. Associations: People and Places

Addicts have several people and places in their lives that remind them of their addiction. They may have hung out with friends who were not positive influences. Perhaps some of them still have the addict’s number or contact information. Family members can even be a trigger, depending on the situation.

There has to be a better and more mature way to handle these associations. Enacting a plan with a sponsor can help enormously. For example, deleting all contacts of drug-related friendships from one’s phone is a good start. Or if a work-related friend asks the addict to go out for a drink, he may come up with a pre-planned excuse as to why he can’t. There must be positive people and places to replace these negative associations with. The addict must come up with some good alternatives so he/she does not become bored (which is also a trigger for relapse).

3. Seeing a Depiction of Substance

Maybe you notice an alcohol commercial on TV and it reminds you of the fun time you had 5 years ago at the bar with your friends. Or maybe you are getting groceries early in sobriety and you happen to walk down the liquor aisle by accident. Even a spoken reference to the substance of choice can be a trigger.

It’s important to center on the positive changes you are making in your life when these triggers arise. Write down a list of the negative consequences of the substance and place them somewhere you can see. Train your brain to remind yourself of these things whenever you see an image of the substance on TV or hear about it from a friend. This will help your brain associate the substance with negativity, rather than being a positive thing.

4. Holidays and Celebratory Times

Holidays and get together are always hard for those new in recovery. Many times, people drank or did drugs because they felt uncomfortable around others. Drinking at parties is simply normal, and sobriety feels unnatural. This will change over time, but in the beginning, it can be very hard to navigate.

Consider attending sober only parties or hanging out with sober friends until you have a better grip on your sobriety. Establish a plan if you have to attend a challenging family function. For example, decide to leave at a specific time and come up with a pre-planned excuse. Communication is also key. If everyone knows you are trying to get sober, they will be more understanding when you have to go.

Do you struggle with addiction or know someone who does? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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