Summer can be a time to let loose, socialize, and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. While many people embrace the warmer weather and longer days that come with summer, this time of year can also come with some anxiety over potential relapse triggers for those in recovery.
Managing relapse triggers is a skill, and it takes practice to ensure that you’ll be able to stay sober no matter what life throws at you. This guide is intended to show you the basics of managing relapse triggers and how they might apply during the summer months.
8 Tips for Managing Common Summer Relapse Triggers
Before we dive into the list, we want to acknowledge that recovery is a long journey, and sometimes, relapse happens. Relapse is a normal part of recovery, and you don’t have to feel ashamed – if you’ve relapsed, here’s how to get back on track.
1. Learn Your Relapse Triggers
The first step of managing relapse triggers is to identify what they are. When you have better awareness, you can take steps to mitigate the potential impact.
Triggers differ for everybody, but they might include:
- Social situations
- Fear of missing out
- Certain friend groups
- Being in the presence of alcohol or drugs
- Attending a party
- Specific sensory inputs (scents, flavors, touch, music/noises, or returning to a specific scene)
- Behaviors from other people
Triggers can be positive, negative, or relatively neutral; some people feel the pull to return to active substance use when they feel the lowest, while other people get triggered by positive experiences, like socializing or spending time with friends. For others, triggers are as general as certain locations, people, or thoughts.
Diving into what triggers you the most helps you to prepare for the moment before it arises, putting you in a better position to cope with these triggers effectively.
If you’ve struggled with relapse triggers in the past, it can be helpful to identify what led up to that moment. Triggers can be internal (stress, joy, sadness, anxiety) or external (other people, places, or objects). Relapse triggers can build up over time or you may experience an isolated incident.
One important thing to remember is that relapse triggers are normal, even for those who have been in recovery and maintained abstinence from decades. There is no shame in feeling this way (though shame can act as a powerful relapse trigger!). Try to view these triggers as feedback: warning signs that are telling you something needs your attention.
2. Develop a Coping Strategy
After learning your relapse triggers, the next step in managing them is to develop effective coping strategies. You’ll want to come up with different options that you can use in various scenarios: make a plan for what you’ll do when a powerful craving, urge, or trigger hits. Coping strategies can act as a lifesaver when relapse triggers threaten to drown you.
Just as everyone has unique triggers, everyone has a different coping strategy that works for them. For some people, the best way to deal with a trigger is to exercise, while others will benefit more from calling a friend or attending a support group. Develop different strategies before the moment strikes so you won’t have to think about how to prevent relapse.
Other examples of relapse trigger coping strategies include:
- Going for a walk
- Petting a dog or cat
- Listening to a podcast
- Mindful breathing exercises
- Eating a sour candy or spicy food (the flavors can work as a distraction until the feeling subsides)
If you’ve attended a residential treatment program, you may have developed specific coping strategies to help with relapse triggers. A therapist is a great resource for helping you identify relapse triggers, and they can brainstorm coping strategies for different scenarios.
One effective strategy for when triggers hit is to call somebody who supports your recovery and talk it out. Sharing your experience with an understanding person can be cathartic, and they may be in a better position to help you through this difficult time. You can call a therapist, a sympathetic friend, or a sponsor from a support group – anyone who has a vested interest in helping you stay sober. Talking it out and using future thinking to play the situation forward a few steps can ground you and create more space within a tense moment.
We put together another post to help you identify more strategies for managing cravings and triggers without relapse.
3. Stay on Top of Self-Care Practices
The best offense starts with a good defense. Following self-care practices is an effective strategy for managing relapse triggers because they help you build a reserve of strength to call upon when things get tough. Self-care routines keep you rooted in recovery and more regulated in moments of stress so you can resist the allure of drugs or alcohol in tense moments. When you feel good, strong, and comfortable in your sobriety, you’re less susceptible to triggers.
Some self-care practices may include:
- Spending time with friends or family
- Eating nutrient-dense foods (and making space to enjoy your favorite dishes)
- Meeting regularly with a therapist
- Staying connected with a recovery community
- Taking the time to have sober fun: seeing a movie, playing mini golf, exploring a new city, trying a new hobby
- Doing anything that makes you feel good about yourself long-term
Self-care practices are a preventive strategy: they can deter relapse by reinforcing the belief that you are worthy and deserving of good health and positive relationships. These activities might seem silly at first glance, but the truth is that they are necessary steps for long-term recovery. Self-care routines can deepen your awareness and appreciation for sobriety; when you routinely make an effort to engage in practices that remind you of the goodness of your recovery, you’re more likely to protect it.
Self-care practices are especially important in summer, when people typically have more hours of daylight, increased travel, and a higher likelihood of disrupted routines.
4. Keep Busy with Sober Activities
Sometimes, simple boredom is the most powerful trigger for people. Active addiction takes up so much energy; after establishing abstinence, free time can feel overwhelming.
Luckily, there are plenty of sober activities to fill the time. Finding a hobby or activity that keeps you engaged, entertained, and fulfilled is a critical component of managing relapse triggers and can significantly improve your quality of life in the process.
Sober activities also prevent one of the key summer relapse triggers: the fear of missing out (also known as FOMO). By keeping yourself involved in sober activities, you keep yourself busy, entertained, happy, and aligned with your recovery goals. Sober activities can act as a bridge to a new life in sustained recovery.
While sober activities provide essential fun, they can be difficult to commit to if you’re new to sobriety; a loss of interest in activities outside of substance use is one of the key criteria of a substance use disorder. The neurological effects of addictive substances exploit the brain’s reward network to make substance use more appealing.
The good news is that with time, your brain can heal from the adaptations formed during active addiction. Continuing the path to recovery will make sober activities more rewarding over time and keep you busy, fulfilled, and better equipped for managing relapse triggers.
5. Plan a Sober Vacation
Recovery doesn’t have to stand in the way of having a great time; it’s possible to plan a vacation compatible with a sober lifestyle and enjoy your summer to the fullest.
When you’re planning a sober vacation, remember to keep your triggers in mind and swap out potentially triggering activities for ones that you can enjoy sober. For example, you can look for a late-night art show or theater production instead of going to a nightclub in the evening. Rather than stopping by the bar at happy hour, spend some time at the pool cooling off. If an all-inclusive resort feels too tempting, consider staying at a private property or somewhere with a more family-friendly vibe.
Remember: sobriety doesn’t have to feel like a limitation. Identifying your triggers and developing healthy coping strategies can help you anticipate issues and prepare yourself for success.
6. Attend Self-Help Groups
Self-help groups are an excellent way to stay diligent with the work that helps keep you sober. Meetings can include discussions on managing relapse triggers, and attending can help you learn new skills and build up your confidence in your sobriety.
Self-help groups offer new opportunities to build community; the people you meet will be there help if you’re struggling or become friends who are excited to participate in sober activities with you.
Based on your location, you probably have access to several different self-help groups, with more options online. You can search for 12-Step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, or you could attend secular groups, such as SMART Recovery or Women For Sobriety. All of these groups are effective at helping people maintain sobriety.
Group connection can help you find and deepen your sense of meaning and purpose. Many of these groups focus on self-growth and introspection while providing valuable skills to deal with unexpected triggers. They also help people to build sober communities and find sober activities. All of these things make the act of managing relapse triggers simpler, easier, and more intuitive.
7. Bring Sober Friends to Non-Sober Activities
Sometimes you might not be entirely in control of your environment, and you might have to attend events that involve alcohol. Family gatherings, work events, or summertime concerts all typically involve serving alcohol, but your sobriety doesn’t have to stop you from attending. If you’re worried about feeling triggered during these events, one way of managing relapse triggers is to bring a sober friend along for support.
A sober friend can help keep you accountable and show you that you’re stronger than you might believe. If you’re feeling triggered, a supportive friend can help you to remove yourself from the situation, practice healthy coping skills, or make the decision to leave if required.
You don’t have to cut yourself off completely from these events. Instead, you can find new ways to interact while leaning on support until you feel confident in navigating things on your own. A sober companion can help you do just that.
8. Know When to Ask for Help
Finally, if the triggers of summer activities are simply too much to bear, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reaching out to a treatment center or therapist can help you build the skills for managing relapse triggers, keep your mental health in top shape, and help you to maintain your sobriety.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you should only seek out professional treatment after a relapse has occurred. If you feel as though you are going to relapse, addiction treatment can help you to stabilize and build the skills to stay sober. Recovery is a process, and sometimes people benefit from outside assistance in order to keep on the path. Remember: going back to rehab does not mean you’ve failed.
More Support for Managing Summer Relapse Triggers
If you find that you need extra assistance in managing relapse triggers during the summer, you can always reach out to All Points North for help.
You can contact our team by using the live chat function on our website or filling out our confidential online contact form. Whether you’ve already relapsed or are simply worried that you may, our compassionate team will be there to help.
- Zemore, Sarah E. et al. “A Longitudinal Study of the Comparative Efficacy of Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, SMART Recovery, and 12-Step Groups for Those with AUD.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, vol. 88, 2018, pp. 18-26. DOI: 10.1016/j.jsat.2018.02.004
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- Irvin, J. E. et al. “Efficacy of Relapse Prevention: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 67, no. 4, 1999, pp. 563-570. DOI: 10.1037//0022-006x.67.4.563