Emotions That Can Trigger Relapse

There are many painful experiences that a person can have that can put them at risk for relapse. In fact, certain emotions might have contributed to an addiction in the first place. Depending upon if a person learned healthy coping tools to manage challenging emotions will determine whether those feelings will create problems later. Typically, during recovery a person will learn a variety of healthy coping tools to manage stress as well as their emotions. However, even with knowing the coping tools to use, an intense emotion can trigger cravings and possibly relapse.

Some of the more challenging emotions, which can put a person at risk for relapse, include:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Disappointment
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Resentment

One of the greatest lessons a person can learn in recovery is how to manage their emotions. It is certainly not an easy skill. However, the task is to choose a coping tool instead of reaching for drugs and alcohol. When a person feels guilty, for example, he or she might journal, paint, listen to music, meditate, or exercise as a way to manage the emotion. Instead of drinking when feelings of guilt arise, a recovering addict can choose another behavior that will help them move through the challenge. It’s this redirecting of behavior that can keep someone sober!

In fact, part of addiction treatment is frequently learning how to become emotionally aware. Because sometimes an addict might have a desire to get drunk or high without even realizing that they are feeling uncomfortable. Yet, over time, a person can begin to recognize the feelings they are having right in the moment. Once a person is aware that they are feeling a certain way, there is more of an ability to choose to respond to that emotion in a healthy way. The lesson in recovery, for most people, is to unlearn the association between a particular emotion and substance use.

Although it’s common that a person might struggle with one particular emotion over the years, he or she might also learn to run from all uncomfortable emotions through the use of alcohol and drugs. In recovery, learning how to face those uncomfortable emotions is part of the journey. Fortunately, a person doesn’t have to face challenging emotions alone! Instead, he or she can learn a variety of coping tools to help with managing those intense and uncomfortable feelings.

Interestingly, learning how to manage emotions is the same skill as managing stress. They go hand in hand. The tools you might use to manage emotions, such as taking a bath, journaling, exercising, or talking to your therapist are the same tools you can use to manage stress. It’s common for men and women in recovery to use a coping tool once per day to keep their level of stress and discomfort at a minimum. Mary Ellen Copeland, creator of the Wellness Recovery Action Plan, recommends having a daily maintenance plan. This is a plan for using certain tools on a daily basis to keep yourself well.

Certain emotions can be challenging to bear, and in the past you might have turned to drugs and alcohol. However, in recovery, there are a number of tools you can use to face those intense emotions in a healthy way. And if you are having significant trouble with certain emotions, contact a mental health provider for immediate support.