When recovering from addiction, many situations can introduce triggers and increase the risk of drinking or using again. That’s why learning how to navigate high-risk situations is critical to achieving long-term recovery.
Learning how to navigate high-risk situations when recovering from addiction is similar to staging an intervention. Like with intervention strategies, what you do in the heat of the moment is defined by the preparation leading up to it. If the first time you think about how to navigate a high-risk situation is when you encounter one, it’s only a matter of time before you fall back into old habits.
That’s why the most important thing when learning to navigate high-risk situations is learning how to identify them, both internally and externally. But that isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
The challenge starts by defining what “high risk” means. A high-risk activity or event for someone recovering from alcohol addiction is different than someone recovering from prescription pill addiction. Ultimately, though, a high-risk situation arises any time the individual in recovery is either exposed to the subject of their addiction or triggers that may lead them to drink or use again.
Start by identifying the addiction and any places the individual is likely to encounter the subject of the addiction. For someone working through alcohol addiction, going to a bar is a high-risk situation because it’s impossible to avoid alcohol there.
However, high-risk situations aren’t always as obvious as that. For example, someone struggling with a prescription drug addiction may feel the urge to take pills every time they brush their teeth while looking in the mirror of their medicine cabinet. Why? That was part of their ritual before taking pills. In that case, something as simple as brushing teeth can be a high-risk situation.
That’s why it’s critical to provide an open and honest assessment of what high-risk situations look like for the individual. It’s common for people struggling with addiction to downplay the risk of high-risk events or situations. For example, they may say things like, “Oh, it’s just an office party at a restaurant. That’s not high-risk.” But when co-workers start ordering drinks, it suddenly becomes one, and it may already be too late.
When identifying high-risk events, you should never minimize or downplay the risk of a situation. When you minimize risk, it becomes an excuse for drinking or using later. The best way to navigate high-risk situations in recovery is by identifying them ahead of time and avoiding them in the first place. Someone recovering from addiction should always err on the side of caution, and if they or someone who cares about them think an event or situation might present the risk of relapse, it’s safest to assume it will.
However, it isn’t always possible to avoid high-risk situations. On top of learning how to identify and avoid them, you also have to learn how to navigate them.
When you are exposed to a trigger during a high-risk situation that you didn’t anticipate, you’re going to do whatever you’ve been preparing to do when that happens. That means if you haven’t prepared for that scenario, there’s a greater chance you’ll drink or use again. However, if you have a specific plan to follow when you unexpectedly encounter a trigger, you’re more likely to follow it.
Ultimately, the best addiction trigger coping strategy is to always have an exit strategy, no matter where you are or who you’re with. Always know exactly what you’re going to do if you encounter a trigger and feel compelled to use again, even if the exit plan is as simple as standing up and walking outside.
What matters most in that heat of a high-risk moment is that you don’t go against your recovery goals. The best way to prevent that is by immediately removing yourself from the situation or distancing yourself from the trigger with the goal of guarding your sobriety. As long as you already know what to do or say, you’ll always have the choice to do something other than drink or use.
When you or someone you care about is learning how to navigate high-risk situations, one of the best ways to prioritize accountability is by getting other people involved. Even if you can’t tell the people at an event, you can tell somebody else who cares about you that you’re going to encounter a high-risk situation or event, and what you’re going to do to stay sober.
When you know someone else is aware of your commitment to sobriety, it’s much easier to hold yourself accountable when you know you’ll have to answer to them when you don’t follow through.
From there, if you hear a voice in your head warning you about a possible risky situation or event and you still have to go, your best option is to seek the help of people who have been there before by exploring sober companion services.
With the guidance of a dedicated Certified Recovery Agent, our participants learn the skills and techniques to navigate high-risk situations from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Because we move the point of care from the treatment center to wherever life takes you, you gain confidence and experience by applying what you’re learning to your everyday life. With enough perseverance, our approach makes sobriety possible for anyone.
When you’re ready to take the next step, find out if ALYST is right for your recovery goals.