9 Common Alcohol Relapse Triggers

March 19, 2023

Before you go to drug and alcohol rehab, it’s important to know that it’s possible to relapse. You may go back to your old habits of binge drinking or abusing drugs. Our addiction treatment facilities in Orange County use medications and therapy to prevent this from happening, but your old environment may have triggers. A trigger sets off an urge to drink or do drugs again. Let’s take a look at 9 common alcohol relapse triggers, and what you can do to prevent falling prey to them.



Your friends at home may go out or stay in and drink or use drugs. They may not understand what it’s like to be an alcoholic or addicted to a substance. Because of this, they may pressure you to drink or participate in partying with drugs. It doesn’t mean you have to—they just may not know the extent of your problem.

Not everyone will understand that your life of sobriety is a choice out of necessity. If your friends encourage you to drink, you can suggest sober activities away from alcohol, such as hiking. For friends who hold you accountable, you’ll be able to tap into your social support network. Look into the network you built at your residential addiction treatment center or at your sober living home.


Similar to peer pressure, your family may not understand your journey to recovery. This is one of the biggest common relapse triggers. They may not understand the necessary steps it takes to remain sober. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or attending a holiday party, there is bound to be alcohol and possible negative family influences. Holidays can be stressful, as they bring up memories and invite questions and expectations in social situations.

When you go to a party, confide in a trusted family member or let your sponsor know that you’re going. Commit to not drinking or using drugs before you leave the house. At the get-together, stay close to your trusted family member. They can provide support and help steer conversations with old family members in a positive direction.


Commercials are designed to provoke feelings of desire to get you to buy their product. Sadly, they don’t care about your hard work and your journey to recovery. That’s why it’s important to protect yourself when consuming media. Online, targeted ads can bring up a certain wine or beer you were looking at a while ago. This provokes cravings, or worse, could make the purchase easier. Because of this, it’s best to install ad blockers and choose subscriptions that get rid of ads.

Like other media, movies often have unpredictable scenes of characters partying, using drugs, or having severe cravings. Even if you think you’re bulletproof, movies have a way of triggering your emotions and immersing you into their worlds. Before you watch a movie, read the reasons it’s rated R. If it has drug reference or usage in it, it may be wise to choose another movie. Do this at least until you’re completely confident in your recovery, and you don’t feel easily compelled by any triggers. It may seem over-the-top to avoid certain movies, but you don’t have to avoid them forever. When you’re newly sober, avoiding the risk of relapse is worth it.


It may be a concert, an outdoor music festival, an annual event, awards ceremony, or party venue that holds memories of where you were last binge drinking or using drugs. Going to a concert or a club, where the smell of drugs and alcohol are prevalent and accessible, may cause triggers.

Instead of going out, create a music playlist and have a dance party at home with friends while sober. Steer clear of music that can cause triggers or encourage drug and alcohol use. Try empowering or feel-good songs such as “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child or “Happy” by Pharrell. If you have to be in an environment that provokes your triggers, call your sponsor or a counselor to let them know ahead of time so they can provide support.


HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. When you’re feeling any of these, you’re more likely to have your emotions take over your ability to rationalize. Feeling emotional can lead you to feeling a loss of control, which can lead to a lack of willpower when you have cravings.

Be sure to have portable, instant solutions to these problems.

  • Have a healthy snack in the car or in your purse.
  • Have a stress ball or a journal handy.
  • Text a friend or do a nice deed for someone.
  • Take a nap and make sure you get enough sleep each night.


The excitement of a new relationship and sex both can produce dopamine in the reward center of your brain, which needs to be rewired during rehab due to drug addiction. If you jump into a relationship too quickly, you can get addicted to the dopamine and dependent on that your partner, which can be detrimental in the case of a break-up. If you’re used to sex with drugs, that could be a huge trigger.

Your partner may also suggest dates involving alcohol or drugs that are harder to say no to. Recent patients should avoid dating for a year to avoid relapses and other associated addictions.


Job-related stress may cause triggers, especially if you allowed yourself to have a drink as a means to unwind. Happy hours at work with new people you’re trying to please could also create triggers. If you want to participate in team bonding without alcohol, opt for an alcohol-free beverage or opt-out of the activity and suggest a sober group bonding activity for next time.


When you think it’s impossible that you would ever relapse, you run the risk of not being careful enough. Triggers appear instantly, and you have to be prepared to face them.

If you’re over-confident, it can create shame and guilt around your urges, which can cause you to give in instead of talking openly to a sponsor or a friend for support. Be confident, but be aware that your mind may try to trick you sometimes, and you’ll need help from others.


Stress comes in many forms with many causes, and it can lead to looking for alcohol or substances to relieve stress or treat any emotional pain.

Yoga and meditation can help lower the stress hormone cortisol and can help the body get rid of toxins and lactic acid that contributes to physical stress.


Even the smallest alcohol relapse triggers could contribute to a relapse. But with rehab, sober living, and an outpatient therapy program, these common relapse triggers can be mitigated. When you’re newly sober, avoid movies, commercials, and other media that heavily references or glamorizes drugs. Don’t go to places where you used to party, and if you have to go to a family gathering, make sure you have a sponsor, a friend to hold you accountable, or a counselor to help you through any urges or cravings you may have. Always remember that you chose the road to recovery for a reason, and you are stronger than your triggers.

Gratitude Lodge’s treatment centers in Southern California can help you learn new coping skills, find ways to create sustainable change, and get you back on track after a relapse. Learn more about our treatment programs today.


What are the 3 types of relapse?

The three types of relapse are emotional, mental, and physical. Emotional relapse is characterized by negative emotions like anger, anxiety, or depression. You may not be thinking about using substances, but your emotions are putting you at risk for relapse. Mental relapse occurs when you start to think about using drugs or alcohol again. You may glamorize past drug use, think about people or places associated with drug use, and even start planning to use drugs again. While you may be fighting the urge to use drugs or alcohol, you might find it difficult to resist the temptation. Physical relapse is the final stage of relapse and involves the active use of drugs or alcohol. By this stage, you have given in to your cravings and have started using drugs or alcohol again.
What are the 5 determinants of relapse?

Alcohol relapse can be influenced by a wide range of factors, and it can be challenging to identify a definitive set of determinants that apply to everyone. That said, five factors that have been shown to be commonly associated with alcohol relapse are trigger and cravings, lack of social support, co-occurring mental health disorders, poor coping skills, and overconfidence or complacency in recovery.


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Drug and alcohol rehab should be accessible to everyone. At Gratitude Lodge, we work with most insurance plans to cover the costs of treatment.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.
Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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