Those who are in recovery from substance abuse may find that drugs or alcohol served as coping tools for unresolved emotional issues. The ability to be aware of triggers that increase the desire for negative coping mechanisms is an important part of sustained recovery and essential for continued healing.

While professional treatment is the first stepping stone in the recovery process, here are four common obstacles that can make recovery process and potentially trigger a relapse after treatment.

The Emergence of Negative Emotions

Stress can potentially trigger a desire to relapse [1], and strong emotions such as anger, loneliness, fatigue, or anxiety can contribute to stress. While harmful, substances migh dilute the bad feelings that go along with these negative emotions, the effect is only temporary. It is important to build a strong toolbox of healthy coping mechanisms to use when these emotions present themselves. Tools can include calling an individual who supports the recovery process, enjoying a yoga class to wind down, or relying on a social circle for reinforcement. Regular routines can help minimize daily fatigue and can make room to learn healthy techniques to manage the symptoms of anxiety that may trigger a desire for relapse.

Mental or Physical Illness

Illness can cause symptoms that make daily life more difficult to cope with. An individual that is coping with substance abuse recovery may find that these additional symptoms make managing the healing process more than they can handle. It is wise to keep a careful eye on one’s physical health when exiting rehab and/or following relapse. If symptoms of a health issue are identified early and managed, sickness and the resulting exhaustion that can be a trigger relapse may be avoided altogether. Self-care is extremely important during recovery, and while emotional wellbeing is essential for recovery, physical health is just as meaningful for overall health.

Self Reliance

After one has been in recovery for a while, it can be easy to feel confident in their ability to say ‘no’ to triggers and remain sober on their own. In reality, recovery is an ongoing process that is not solved once someone leaves treatment. The desires that certain triggers present can be just as influential before and during treatment as they are after. It is important to realize when and where triggers might occur so that one can be prepared to use the steps they learned in treatment to deal with these desires as they occur [2]. By handling experiences one by one it can be easier to remain grounded in an acknowledgement of the past and a plan for the future. 


Stress is an emotion that everyone struggles with. Uncontrollable circumstances can trigger stress and how individuals deal with stress can often determine the ways through which these circumstances are resolved. Positive stress such as starting a new job or having new baby can result in the same triggers that negative stress can. Anything that dramatically alters one’s routines can initiate a desire to use substances in order to renew a sense of calm and normalcy. If a someone in recovery has stressful events coming up in life, no matter their type, it’s important to build a strong support network to be able to deal with these issues as they arise.

While it is impossible to plan for every different trigger that may occur after treatment. Seeking to identify and avoid these common triggers can equip those in recovery with the tools they need to cope with them without relapsing. Through avoiding one craving at a time, sustained recovery outside of treatment is an attainable reality.