In early recovery from drugs and/or alcohol—as with other addictions—there are things that trigger the recovering addict into thinking that may result in relapse. From one addict to the next, these things will have similarities as well as differences, depending upon the person and the addiction.
An example of a situation that may trigger a relapse to alcohol use would be a time of day when the recovering addict would normally have their first cocktail. Another might be seeing a commercial on television portraying a particular favorite brand of alcohol. Scenes of drinking behaviors in movies or portrayed on television could also be triggers, as can the smell of a favorite beverage or driving by a bar or liquor store that was a favorite during active addiction. Even driving in the same neighborhood or on the same street may bring up memories that are uncomfortable and difficult to contain.
Maybe it's the lighter that was used for smoking marijuana, or the smell of sulfur after a match strike. Music, sounds, people, places, and objects can all be triggers. You'll never know until you encounter them in a new environment and feel the tug of the old days pulling you back into the addictive behavior.
An Ounce of Prevention
Relapse prevention is an important factor during treatment. Without an open awareness of what some of their triggers may be, addicts are left unprepared for working through those triggers without relapsing into behaviors—or even ways of thinking—that are going to prevent them from successful recovery. It's the same parts of the brain that will figure largely into their recovery that are heavily inundated with these types of sensory stimuli.
The key to recovery is uncovering triggers and having contingency plans available for these moments. The sights, smells, and friends associated with your old life can cause you to slip back into dangerous patterns. It is important for the addicts in recovery to have back up plans available so they can be on guard and walk away without succumbing to the temptations that will arise.
Relationships with other recovering persons can be priceless in these situations. They can inform a newly-recovering addict about how they overcame similar circumstances and validate any feelings that may come up.
A misconception that newly-recovering addicts often have is that the knowledge they have gained about their addiction is adequate to keep them from relapse. This is not the case. When those triggers are encountered, they have a powerful pull on every addict, whether they have knowledge about their triggers or not. So when they learn that they are not alone in fighting off the temptations faced with those triggers, they have a stronger weapon with which to resist.