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Relapse Prevention: Identifying Triggers, Setting Goals and Changing Your Environment

Identifying Triggers, Setting Goals, and the Significance of Changing Your Environment to Prevent Relapse

Recovery from trauma, addiction, or mental health challenges often involves understanding and managing triggers, setting meaningful goals, and sometimes, making changes to your environment. This post explores how these elements intersect and play a pivotal role in maintaining progress and Identifying Triggers, Setting Goals, and the Significance of Changing Your Environment to Prevent Relapse.

Identifying Triggers:

Triggers are situations, people, thoughts, or emotions that evoke strong emotional reactions or cravings. In the context of trauma, addiction, or mental health, identifying triggers is the first step to preventing relapse. Strategies to identify triggers include:

  1. Self-Reflection: Take time to reflect on past experiences and determine which situations or emotions have triggered negative behaviors or emotional responses.

  2. Therapy and Counseling: Work with a therapist or counselor who can help you identify and understand your triggers. They can provide insights and tools for managing them effectively.

  3. Journaling: Keep a journal to track your emotional responses and the circumstances surrounding them. Over time, patterns may emerge that reveal your triggers.

  4. Seek Input from Supportive Individuals: Talk to supportive friends or family members who have witnessed your triggers. They may offer valuable insights.

Setting Goals:

Setting clear and realistic goals is essential for maintaining recovery and building a positive future. Goal setting can provide motivation and direction. Strategies for goal setting include:

  1. SMART Goals: Use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) criteria to define your goals clearly. This makes them more manageable and achievable.

  2. Long-Term and Short-Term Goals: Set both long-term and short-term goals. Short-term goals offer a sense of achievement and progression, while long-term goals provide a broader vision.

  3. Prioritize Self-Care: Include self-care goals that focus on physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This might involve exercise, meditation, therapy sessions, or other self-care activities.

  4. Celebrate Achievements: Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Recognizing your progress reinforces motivation.

The Importance of Changing Your Environment:

Changing your environment can be a powerful strategy to prevent relapse. Your environment plays a significant role in shaping your behavior and emotional well-being. Strategies for changing your environment include:

  1. Identify Harmful Environments: Recognize environments that trigger negative behaviors or emotions. This might include places where you used substances or locations that remind you of traumatic experiences.

  2. Create a Supportive Environment: Surround yourself with supportive, understanding, and positive individuals who encourage your recovery and well-being.

  3. Explore New Activities: Engage in new, healthy activities and hobbies that create a sense of fulfillment and purpose. These can serve as a positive focus.

  4. Relocation: Consider moving to a new location if your current environment consistently reinforces negative patterns. A fresh start can be transformative.

  5. Structured and Supportive Housing: If necessary, explore structured housing or sober living environments that provide a supportive and recovery-oriented atmosphere.


Identifying triggers, setting goals, and changing your environment are intertwined elements of a holistic approach to recovery and relapse prevention. By understanding your triggers, setting meaningful goals, and creating a supportive environment, you can build a foundation for lasting positive change and a brighter future. Remember that recovery is a journey, and setbacks can happen, but with these strategies, you are better equipped to navigate the path to wellness and maintain your progress.


How to Create a Successful Relapse Prevention Plan

Creating a successful relapse prevention plan is essential for individuals in recovery from addiction, trauma, or other challenges. Such a plan serves as a roadmap to help you stay on track and avoid a return to unhealthy behaviors or coping mechanisms. Here are the key steps to develop an effective relapse prevention plan:

1. Self-Reflection and Awareness:

Begin by reflecting on your personal triggers, risk factors, and warning signs that may lead to relapse. Self-awareness is a crucial foundation for a successful plan. Consider the following:

  • What situations, people, or emotions have triggered relapse in the past?

  • What are the early warning signs that indicate you may be at risk of relapse?

  • What are your personal vulnerabilities or stressors?

2. Identify Your Support System:

List the individuals and resources that you can turn to for support and guidance in times of need. This might include:

  • Family and friends who are aware of your journey and can offer emotional support.

  • Therapists, counselors, or support groups.

  • Recovery mentors or sponsors.

  • Helplines or crisis intervention resources.

3. Set Clear and Specific Goals:

Establish short-term and long-term goals that reflect your aspirations, personal growth, and well-being. Your goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). For example:

  • Short-term goals might include attending therapy sessions regularly, practicing mindfulness daily, or attending support group meetings.

  • Long-term goals could encompass achieving a specific period of sobriety or improving your overall mental health.

4. Develop Coping Strategies:

Identify healthy coping mechanisms and stress management techniques that you can employ when faced with triggers or stressors. These might include:

  • Meditation and mindfulness practices to stay grounded.

  • Exercise and physical activities to release built-up tension.

  • Journaling to process and express your emotions.

  • Deep breathing or relaxation exercises.

5. Create an Emergency Plan:

Incorporate an emergency plan for moments when you're at high risk of relapse. This plan should detail steps to take if you feel on the brink of returning to harmful behavior. Include:

  • Contact information for your support network.

  • Crisis helplines or hotlines.

  • The location of the nearest hospital or treatment facility.

  • A list of therapeutic exercises to calm yourself in the moment.

6. Avoid High-Risk Situations:

Identify specific environments, situations, or people that are associated with past relapse. Determine how to minimize exposure to these risk factors, especially in early recovery. Consider:

  • Avoiding places where you used substances or engaged in unhealthy behaviors.

  • Reducing contact with individuals who encourage or enable your destructive behavior.

  • Creating alternative plans or activities for times when you would typically be vulnerable.

7. Regularly Evaluate and Adjust Your Plan:

A successful relapse prevention plan is not static; it should evolve as you do. Periodically assess your progress and reevaluate your goals, triggers, and strategies. Make adjustments as necessary to adapt to your changing needs and circumstances.

8. Seek Professional Guidance:

Consider working with a therapist or counselor who specializes in addiction, trauma, or relapse prevention. They can provide personalized guidance and help you fine-tune your plan.

9. Maintain a Supportive Environment:

Surround yourself with individuals who are supportive of your recovery journey. Communicate your needs and boundaries to them, and seek their understanding and assistance.

10. Celebrate Milestones:

Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements and milestones in recovery. Recognize your progress, no matter how small, to reinforce your motivation and commitment.

Remember that recovery is a journey, and relapse can be a part of that journey for some. If it happens, don't be discouraged. Use it as an opportunity to learn and adjust your plan accordingly. With perseverance, self-awareness, and a solid relapse prevention plan, you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthier, happier life in recovery.

Here's an example of a relapse prevention plan. Please note that this is a generalized template, and it should be customized to fit your specific needs and circumstances.

Relapse Prevention Plan for [Your Name]

1. Self-Reflection and Awareness:

  • Identify personal triggers, such as stress, emotional pain, or specific situations that have led to past relapses.

  • Recognize early warning signs, like increased irritability, cravings, or isolation, that may indicate relapse risk.

  • Acknowledge your vulnerabilities, past traumas, and any co-occurring mental health issues that may affect your recovery.

2. Support System:

  • Trusted friends and family who are aware of your journey and can provide emotional support.

  • Weekly therapy sessions with a licensed counselor.

  • Participation in a local support group for [specific issue, e.g., addiction, trauma, mental health].

  • A sponsor or mentor from your support group who can offer guidance.

3. Goals:

Short-Term Goals:

  • Attend therapy sessions every Tuesday and Thursday.

  • Practice mindfulness and meditation for 15 minutes each morning.

  • Regularly attend support group meetings (at least three times a week).

  • Journal daily to track emotions and triggers.

Long-Term Goals:

  • Achieve six months of continuous sobriety.

  • Improve overall mental health and well-being.

  • Reestablish a strong support network of friends and family.

  • Pursue hobbies or interests that bring joy and fulfillment.

4. Coping Strategies:

  • Engage in mindfulness meditation when feeling overwhelmed.

  • Attend exercise classes at the local gym three times a week.

  • Write in your journal to express and process emotions.

  • Practice deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation techniques when stress arises.

5. Emergency Plan:

If you feel at high risk of relapse:

  • Contact your therapist or counselor immediately.

  • Reach out to your support group sponsor or mentor.

  • Utilize the crisis helpline [insert crisis helpline number].

  • Use relaxation techniques and journaling to manage emotions.

6. Avoid High-Risk Situations:

  • Stay away from bars or places where you used substances.

  • Minimize contact with old friends who still use.

  • Plan alternative activities during times when you're most vulnerable.

7. Evaluation and Adjustments:

  • Regularly review your progress and relapse prevention strategies with your therapist or counselor.

  • Adjust your plan based on changing triggers, needs, or circumstances.

8. Professional Guidance:

  • Continue working with your therapist to address the underlying issues contributing to your challenges and relapse triggers.

9. Supportive Environment:

  • Communicate your needs and boundaries to friends and family, seeking their understanding and assistance.

10. Celebrate Milestones:

  • Celebrate small and significant achievements in your recovery, such as each month of sobriety, improved well-being, or successful handling of triggers.

Remember that this is just a template. Your relapse prevention plan should be highly individualized and developed in collaboration with a therapist or counselor who can provide expert guidance and tailor the plan to your unique situation and goals.

Relapse Prevention Workbooks and Worksheets

Relapse prevention workbooks and worksheets are valuable resources for individuals in recovery from addiction, trauma, or mental health issues. They offer structured exercises and tools to help you identify and manage triggers, set goals, and develop coping strategies. Here are some workbooks and worksheets you can explore:

"The Relapse Prevention Workbook" by Terence T. Gorski:

This workbook provides practical exercises and strategies for relapse prevention, including identifying triggers and creating a personalized plan.

"The Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors Workbook" by Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH:

Specifically designed for those dealing with addiction, this workbook offers exercises to recognize relapse triggers and develop coping skills.

"Recovery from Trauma, Addiction, or Both: Strategies for Finding Your Best Self" by Lisa M. Najavits, PhD:

This workbook addresses the challenges of both trauma and addiction, offering worksheets and strategies for recovery.

"Smart Recovery Handbook":

SMART Recovery, a science-based program, provides various worksheets and tools for addiction recovery, including the ABCs of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) and the Cost-Benefit Analysis.

"DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets" by Marsha M. Linehan, PhD

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a therapy approach that can be helpful for those with emotional regulation challenges. This workbook contains numerous DBT worksheets.

"The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms" by Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula:

This workbook offers practical exercises for those dealing with post-traumatic stress symptoms.

"The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook" by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD:

While primarily focused on anxiety and phobias, this workbook contains exercises that can be adapted for managing anxiety-related triggers.

"My Relapse Prevention Plan Worksheet":

Available on many addiction recovery websites, this worksheet guides you through creating a personalized relapse prevention plan.

"Daily Mood Chart":

Use a daily mood chart to track your emotional fluctuations and identify patterns that may lead to relapse. You can find these charts online or create your own.

"Coping Skills Worksheets":

Various websites and mental health resources offer free coping skills worksheets that can help you manage stress and emotional triggers.

When using workbooks and worksheets, it's beneficial to work with a therapist or counselor who can provide guidance and support. They can help you tailor these resources to your specific needs and assist you in understanding and processing the insights gained from the exercises. Additionally, many of these workbooks are available for purchase online or at local bookstores, and some may be accessible in digital formats for ease of use.


Need Help Developing A Plan For Self-Care

Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:

Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC

Art Wellness Studio and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balance lifestyle.

Warm Regards

Dr. Nikki LeToya White

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