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Effective treatment programs utilize a variety of therapies to tackle the biological, psychological and social symptoms of addiction. Recovery from addiction is a complex process because the disease itself is complex. Issues such as underlying mental health problems, medical issues and family difficulties often influence substance use and require in-depth management.

Dealing with intense cravings after treatment can be critical to maintaining sobriety. Relapse triggers are a related but slightly different problem. Both of these factors require therapeutic attention in order to maintain a substance-free life.

Managing Cravings

Cravings are the intense desire to use the addictive substance, and they can continue even after detoxification and the completion of a treatment program. Cravings occur because of the changes in brain chemistry caused by the addictive substance. The neurotransmitter chemicals that regulate feelings of pleasure become disrupted during addiction, and returning the chemistry to normal function can take months or sometimes years.

Cravings can be powerful and can overwhelm every other thought. Individuals in treatment must learn not only to expect these cravings, but also to prepare for managing them with specific preplanned responses.

What Are Relapse Triggers?

The triggers that can cause an individual to return to substance use are highly specific and individual. It may be particular places associated with past substance use. It may be people with whom one used the substance. A trigger may also be a situation that caused the person to turn to the substance in the past.1

Recognizing these unique relapse triggers can allow the person time to implement a strategy to prevent a return to substance use, such as spending time with a non-using friends or attending a support group meeting to strengthen resolve.

A relapse back into substance use does not occur all at once. Experts have learned that it occurs in stages that provide opportunities to intervene:

  • Emotional relapse – In this phase, the pressures and stresses of rebuilding life after addiction begin to build up, and the individual may have difficulty managing feelings of frustration, anger and tension.
  • Mental relapse – The individual may begin reminiscing about the glamour and good times of their past substance use.
  • Physical relapse – The individual actually drives to the liquor store or goes to the dealer.

Preventing Relapse

Professional addiction treatment programs integrate management of cravings and recognition of triggers into their therapies. You can use a number of techniques to manage intense cravings when they occur and deal with the sudden appearance of triggers:

  • Exercise your willpower – Like a muscle, willpower gets stronger when you use it frequently.
  • Rely on supportive friends – Keep these individuals on speed-dial and connect with their positivity to sustain you.2
  • Have a counselor on hand – Staying in therapy at some level will provide the psychological support you need when cravings arise or when you cannot avoid your triggers.
  • Avoid overconfidence – The idea that you are completely cured or that using one time will be okay are the deceptive thoughts that lead people back to drug and alcohol use.
  • Maintain a mindset of health – Staying sober and healthy should include efforts to eat well, exercise frequently, have meaningful work and develop healthy relationships. This overall effort toward being healthy will help you to turn away from triggers and cravings that can lead you astray.

An effective treatment program will help patients recognize the triggers that can lead to relapse, as well as learn techniques to help them deal with the inevitable cravings that occurs after stopping the use of substances. These measures can be critical to maintaining sobriety while people rebuild substance-free lives.

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  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
  2. https://www.hbo.com/addiction/understanding_addiction/13_craving.html
Relapse Triggers vs. Cravings: What’s the Difference?
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