Perhaps the most obvious relapse trigger is stress. Stress is an emotion most of us will experience on a daily basis. Experiencing stress is not an overtly bad thing per se. Stress is part of life and although you may be able to avoid stress, you will nevertheless experience stress almost daily no matter how much you try to avoid it.
This means stress management becomes an all-important skill for people living in recovery. If you are not able to manage stress as and when it arises, the chances of sustaining your recovery are dramatically reduced.
Don’t allow stress to derail your recovery. You can help to combat stress by investing the necessary time and effort to learn stress management techniques. Perhaps the best way to truly internalise stress management techniques is to attend SMART Recovery meetings. Why? Because SMART Recovery will teach you formal stress management techniques. This includes cognitive behavioural therapy and rational emotive behaviour therapy.
However, you can learn many useful stress management techniques merely by conducting your own research via Google or by visiting your local library. If you have a little money to spend, you can also access many books on stress management online via websites such as Amazon.
Another option is to invest in an inexpensive stress management video tutorial available on Udemy. You can search for Udemy’s inventory of stress management tutorials here.
The need to commit to stress management over the long term
During stress management sessions, an experienced counsellor will tell you how to recognise stress and the triggers that allow stress to surface. You will then learn a number of highly effective strategies that allow you to contain and reduce stress so you do not reach for drugs or alcohol.
Learning stress management is not so much about learning knowledge as it is being able to apply this knowledge to your daily life. It’s true you may be able to learn most stress management techniques in a few hours, but learning how to apply these techniques successfully takes much more practice. Stress management techniques are all about practical application rather than textbook learning.
This means you must commit to mastering stress management techniques over several months. Only once you have committed this time will you be able to successfully internalise these techniques and thus be able to apply them to your daily life.
Animal studies demonstrating how stress leads to relapse
Animal studies involving rats found that a rat under stress will seek a dose of cocaine but not an unstressed rat. Rats were put under stress by being exposed to a mild electric shock. This study claims the stress hormone corticosterone increases dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centre, giving heightened responsiveness to cocaine.
Interestingly, the researchers injected these rats directly with corticosterone. The rats then relapsed by eating the cocaine even when a mild electric shock was not applied.
Further, it’s obvious that if you are stressed, your emotions are intolerable. Using drugs or alcohol are a way to ‘self-medicate’ away from these negative feelings caused by stress. However, this short-term solution may cause long-term damage to those in recovery since relapse may result in the re-establishment of addiction.
Stress Increases Sensitivity to Relapse Triggers
It’s believed that stress actually increases your sensitivity to other non-stress related relapse triggers. This means stress is a pervasive relapse trigger rather than an isolated trigger. When stress is a factor in relapse, other relapse triggers are almost always present too.
Other common relapse triggers other than stress could include:
- Availability of the drug
- Cues that remind you of your former drug habit
- Exposure to certain people or places
When you are not stressed you are less likely to relapse when exposed to the above relapse triggers. However, when stress is present, exposure to the above factors is much more likely to lead to relapse.
Knowing your stress triggers
There are much stress triggers you must be aware of. Knowing how to identify these triggers allows you to either avoid whatever stimulated them or apply coping strategies when you cannot opt for avoidance.
Common stress triggers include:
The ability to recognise and then manage stress triggers is a vital skill for people living in recovery. Countless people in recovery who relapse purport that stress was a major reason for them doing so.
A list of popular stress management techniques
We now list some of the most effective stress-management techniques you could possibly learn:
- Mindfulness meditation: This involves guided breathing exercises. This helps focus your attention on the present moment
- Taking regular exercise: This helps to reduce your blood pressure, reduce your waist size and improve your mood
- Journaling: Journaling helps you map out your emotions linked to stress. Journaling allows you to better analyse stressful encounters after-the-event. This then allows you to better prepare for these stressful encounters next time they occur
- Expanding your social circle: You are encouraged to join a mutual support group such as SMART Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Here, you will be able to discuss your emotions that are linked to stress. Doing so is cathartic and helps you better prepare for these emotions next time they arise. Attending these meetings will also help you to realise you are not alone in your daily struggles against stress
Do I need to attend a drug and alcohol rehab clinic?
If you find you are constantly relapsing, you may be better off attending an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab clinic. Here, you will gain many skills that will allow you to sustain your recovery. You will benefit from talking-therapies such as psychotherapy. You will also benefit from stress management training. For more information on locating a suitable drug and alcohol rehab clinic in your local area, contact us today on 0800 088 66 86.
Keith stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol more than 10 years ago. He now spends a lot of time writing and editing content for this website. His mission is to assist people who are also looking to embrace addiction recovery. Keith believes a key way to accomplish this goal is through his writing.