As simple as it sounds, the first step to avoiding relapse for the recovering addict is to identify what is tempting. Temptations put one in a high-risk situation for relapse. Temptations tend to remind a person of the “good times” associated with addictions. When temptations present themselves, the addict often seems to develop selective amnesia about the inevitable negative consequences.
Temptations are dependent on the strength of the desire or the inclination to partake of the addiction. They are closely tied to how one feels about oneself. An individual with a strong sense of self and purpose will be much more able to withstand temptations. A person with low self-esteem who is struggling with painful emotions will be more susceptible to giving in to temptation, and thus relapse.
Temptations leading to relapse tend to be associated with places where activities surrounding the addiction took place, people associated with the addiction, and tangible and intangible “things” associated with the addiction. Avoiding temptation, and thereby preventing relapse, means recognizing the associations, acknowledging their power to draw one in again, and giving them a wide berth.
Temptations are harder to resist at certain times. Alcoholics Anonymous uses the acronym HALT to remind us of the times when temptations are most appealing. When someone is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and/or Tired, danger of relapse is ahead. In recognizing these situations, a person can take pre-emptive action and protect her recovery.
Addictions typically become connected with certain patterns, rituals, and people. Here are examples of some temptations that might lead one to relapse:
Nostalgic music that may be associated with the addiction.
White, powdery kitchen items such as flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and cornstarch may resemble cocaine.
Television programs and movies may have scenes that remind one of using days.
A particular intersection may remind one of meeting a dealer.
The hours of four to six in the evening may be associated with cocktails after work.
Developing a respiratory infection or a headache may remind one of prescription drugs used in an addictive manner.
Running into a using “buddy” at the shopping mall may unexpectedly bring to mind one's addiction.
Each recovering addict will have his own peculiar associations with his addictions. Taking steps to prevent temptation, and thus relapse, from arising is the best approach to protecting one's recovery. Clean out anything in the medicine cabinet that may relate to prescription drug use. Remove alcohol from the liquor cabinet. Place filters and blocks on one's computer and place the computer in a common family area. Don't go alone to locations where known temptations wait.
Smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight are all avenues whereby temptations can connect. The smell of certain foods may tempt a food addict, the taste of alcohol may tempt the alcoholic, touching certain objects may tempt the shoplifter, hearing the roll of dice may tempt the gambling addict, and seeing a certain advertisement might tempt one to smoke. Be aware and thus be prepared!
Be careful of hidden temptations as well. One's best efforts and intentions may be sabotaged by temptations that seemingly come out of nowhere. Unasked for pop-ups may appear on one's computer screen tempting one to re-enter pornographic sites. Going to a fine restaurant for an enjoyable meal may stimulate old temptations after tasting foods cooked with alcohol. The innocent sound of cooking spray used before scrambling breakfast eggs may bring back memories of inhalant use.
Beware of jokes about past addictions. Although the intent may be to lighten one's mood, the reminder may bring heavy temptation to the forefront of the addict's mind. The good news is that the more often one successfully wards off temptations, the weaker they become. As the recovering addict recognizes her ability to manage temptation, her confidence gains strength and lifelong recovery is within her grasp.