Internal vs. External Relapse Triggers

As a person recovers from addiction, they may experience strong desires to return to the substances they have abused in the past. These desires are often provoked by certain triggers. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what a relapse trigger is and identify the different types of triggers.

What is a relapse trigger?

A relapse trigger is a cue that can cause a person in recovery to relapse. They cause a person to crave the substance that they used to abuse and that craving often leads to relapse. On average, about 40-60% of people who suffer from substance use disorder will relapse at some point. 

There are many different types of relapse triggers, and understanding them is key to preventing a relapse from occurring. While relapse is not an indication of failure, it can be a setback in the journey to long-term sobriety.

A trigger can be any social, psychological, or environmental cue that causes someone to think about using drugs or alcohol. The specific types and amount of triggers that each individual experiences depend on many factors. These factors include the person’s individual history of substance abuse, co-occurring mental health disorders, and life experiences.

Relapse triggers can be broadly divided into two categories: internal and external relapse triggers.

External relapse triggers

External relapse triggers are social, environmental, or situational cues that make you want to use drugs or drink alcohol. Some common examples of this type of trigger include people, places, objects, and situations


People can be relapse triggers for many reasons. Some people may be a trigger because they are associated with past memories of drug or alcohol abuse. Other people may be a trigger because they cause you to feel certain emotions or feelings that you associate with drug or alcohol abuse. Others may be a trigger because they pressure you into using drugs like you used to. It is important to be aware of the people in your life who may cause you to relapse and to avoid them if possible. If you cannot avoid them, then be sure to have a relapse prevention plan in place so that you are prepared for any potential triggers.


There are many different types of objects that can trigger addiction relapse. Some common examples include drug paraphernalia, alcohol-related items, and triggering pictures or symbols.

Drug paraphernalia

Drug paraphernalia is any object that is associated with drug use. This could include syringes, needles, pipes, bongs, and lighters. If you see these objects, it can trigger a relapse because they remind you of your past drug abuse. It is important to get rid of all drug paraphernalia from your home and to avoid places where you may be around this type of stimulus.

Alcohol-related items

Alcohol-related items can also be relapse triggers. This could include bottles of alcohol, cans of beer, or liquor store advertisements. Seeing these items can make you feel like you need to drink in order to cope with life’s problems. It is important to remove all alcohol-related items from your home and to avoid places where they may be present.

Triggering pictures or symbols

Triggering pictures or symbols are also potential relapse triggers. These could include pictures of yourself when you were actively using drugs or alcohol, pictures of people who are no longer alive because of their addiction, or any other symbol that reminds you of your addiction. It is important to avoid looking at these pictures and to remove them from your environment if possible


There are many different situations that could trigger addiction relapse. Some of the most common include being in a group setting, being around people who are using drugs or alcohol, going to a bar or party, and being in a stressful situation.

Group settings can be relapse triggers for many reasons. One reason is that it can be difficult to avoid social pressure in these settings. It is also easy to relapse when you are surrounded by people who are using drugs or alcohol. In order for you to stay safe, it is important to be aware of the potential relapse triggers that are present in group settings and to have a relapse prevention plan in place.

Going to a bar or party can also be a relapse trigger. This is because there is usually an abundance of drugs and alcohol in these places. It can also be difficult to avoid social pressure in these settings. If you are going to attend a party or go out drinking, then make sure you have a relapse prevention plan in place so that you know how to handle any potential triggers.

Internal relapse triggers

As the name suggests, internal relapse triggers are things that happen internally that lead a person to crave substances. Internal triggers are the thoughts and feelings that a person has that can cause a desire for drugs or alcohol. While we may tend to think that negative feelings lead to relapse, it’s important to acknowledge that both positive and negative feelings could be a trigger. This all depends on the individual going through the experience.

Negative feelings

Negative feelings that could be triggers include depression, anxiety, anger, boredom, and loneliness. These negative emotions can be strong relapse triggers. It’s important to understand these personal triggers and develop strategies to manage them.

Positive feelings

Positive feelings can be some of the strongest relapse triggers. Things like feeling proud of yourself, enjoying time with friends, or feeling loved can make relapse feel like a real possibility. It’s important to remember that these good feelings are normal and acceptable, but you still need to take precautions if you’ve associated them with substance abuse in the past.

Addiction recovery at Isaiah House

At Isaiah House, we’ve helped thousands of men and women escape the grip of addiction. In our treatment centers, clients go through addiction counseling that teaches them how to identify and cope with their potential triggers. In fact, 82% of our graduates are not in active addiction 180 days after program completion.If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we want to help you get on the road to recovery. Reach out to us today. We’re here to walk with you through every step of the journey.

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