There are many possible triggers for relapse. People, places, and things associated with drinking and drug use are major triggers. Stress is another major trigger. Feeling overwhelmed or hopeless in the face of stress often causes relapse. Sometimes it’s not just the people, places, things, and stress that causes a relapse but the whole situation. A trigger that’s manageable one day may be too much on a different day. Sometimes what makes stress overwhelming is just not having our basic needs met. We don’t quit feel up to the challenge and we feel hopeless when in fact there may be a simple solution. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress or cravings, try to remember HALT.
Blood sugar has a much larger influence on our behaviour than most people realize. If you haven’t eaten in a while and your blood sugar drops, you may get irritable, listless, confused, and impulsive. People recovering from alcohol addiction are especially prone to low blood sugar. Naturally, if you are feeling this way when you encounter stress or another trigger, you are likely to have trouble reining in your emotions, especially if you experience strong cravings. The first thing to ask yourself if you suddenly feel overwhelmed, anxious, disoriented, or depressed is whether you might actually be hungry. Before you do anything impulsive, have a healthy meal or snack and see if you feel better.
We all get angry sometimes, but anger never leads to good decisions. Your higher thinking is completely cut out of your decision making process. For many people, anger is what led to addiction in the first place. It helps to lean to deal with anger in general if you want to stay sober. If you are angry over something in particular–which, by the way, is much more likely if you’re already hungry or tired–then wait until you cool off before making any decisions. Take some deep breaths and regain some perspective. Certainly don’t do anything impulsive from a place of spite or resentment. You would very likely be the only one who gets hurt.
Isolation in recovery is dangerous. One of the best predictors of a good recovery is a strong sober network. Loneliness often leads to rumination and depression. When you’re feeling depressed and you’re not hungry or tired, you might just be lonely. Reach out to someone who supports your recovery, even if you feel a little weird about it. You can always go to a meeting if you need to talk to someone.
As with blood sugar, most people don’t realize how much being tired affects their mood. Poor sleep has been linked to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Attention, memory, and coordination all suffer. Nothing seems to go right when you haven’t had enough sleep. Most of the time, there’s nothing else wrong. If you feel depressed or irritable and you’ve addressed your hunger, anger, and loneliness, try taking a nap, even if you don’t really have time. Also, be sure to get more sleep at night. If necessary, see a therapist about cognitive behavioural therapy for sleep or talk to your doctor. Just be sure you doctor knows about your addiction history.