Relapse prevention triggers: Beyond people, places and things

When it comes to addiction recovery, which associations are triggers for you? A basic worksheet with questions about relapse prevention triggers here.

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Many of us in recovery wonder: “How can you prevent relapse?”

As most people reading this are already quite aware, in order to change a bad habit such as a substance abuse problem or addiction, one of the basic principles involves learning to avoid people, places and things associated with one’s former negative behaviors. How do you identify the good from the bad? More here, with worksheet questions designed to learn you through the process. Then, we invite your questions about relapse prevention strategies and techniques in change analysis at the end.

Relapse prevention triggers

One of the first concepts that someone with a substance abuse issue learns in the recovery process is to, “Change people, places and things”. Although avoiding people, places and things is an essential part of recovery and relapse prevention, there is a lot more to think about when it come to our associations.

What is an association?

An association is a connection of persons, things, or ideas by some common factor. A person can be associated with certain people, attitudes, behaviors, places, groups, activities, beliefs, lifestyles, etc. The following questions can generate some thought and some discussion about our associations. It is important to keep in mind which of our associations are good for us and which ones may not be so good when it comes to addiction recovery:


Perhaps you may need to break this category down even further as it is very likely your association with your parents may differ a great deal from that of your siblings or children. Extended family also should be included in the consideration of this topic dependent upon who is involved with your life (Aunt/Uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc.) As you analyze your family associations try to identify which relationships are positive for your recovery and which ones may place you at risk for negative behaviors.

Consider: Are your family associations close and supportive? Or is your connection with your family avoidant or conflictual? Is your level of association somewhere in between or perhaps even varied from situation to situation?

Romantic Relationships

Think about your relationships or your marriage.

Consider: What aspects of these relationships are positive and which need work? Or if you are single, are you avoiding negative relationship choices or are you allowing yourself to get romantically or sexually involved with people who may not be so good for you?


Those who we associate with socially goes much deeper than just our friendships. Most people have various degrees of association when it comes to who we choose to be connected to socially. Consider some of the following subgroups with a view to which of these social associations may be positive or negative for you and why:

Inner Circle: These are the people we trust the most and often are the closest with.

Consider: Do you have a close-knit supportive inner circle that looks out for your best interests or are there people still in your inner circle who may be a negative influence even if it is unintentional?

Outer Circle: Quite often there are people we associate with who we may still consider to be friends or perhaps just “acquaintances” due to a lower level of trust or familiarity.

Consider: How do you rate your outer circle when it comes to how people in it may impact your ability to stay on the right path?

“Other” – Often there are other individuals and groups we are connected to socially simply due to the fact that they are in close proximity. This may include, neighbors, workmates, schoolmates, as well as others we may socialize with because they go to the same places like us such as they gym, our favorite store or restaurant, etc.

Consider: Do you have positive or negative connections in these areas?


Consider: Do you have any specific beliefs that you connect yourself with such as spiritual pursuits or religious involvement? Do have strong feelings about any causes or ethical/moral issues? Or do you find yourself lacking conviction in any area and perhaps this is an area you may need to work on by learning and exploring new ideas? How can you strengthen your sense of hope and faith in positive ways?

Attitudes and Behaviors

This may require some insightful thought, but consider what attitudes and behaviors you are associated with. Think about your attitude and prevailing behaviors and try to determine what areas are positive for you and which ones you may need to improve upon.

Consider: For example are you known to be moody, angry, or irritable? Or are you more known to be relaxed, hard-working, or generous? Are you honest and straightforward or do you still find yourself to be sneaky and secretive? Also consider your behaviors; Are you into arguing or fighting or are you more likely to be associated with being caring and helpful?

Hobbies, Interests, and Entertainment

A person’s choice of recreation can say a lot about who they are.

Consider: What positive ways do you invest your time? (Such as exercise, learning, music/art, creativity, helping others, etc.) Are there things that you need to work on? (Such as keeping busy, avoiding procrastination, preventing unnecessary “drama” which can include gossip, arguing, or stirring up contentions among others)

Maintain positive associations

A man who chooses his associations wisely is safeguarding his own path to success

This list could probably go on even further however what has been listed is a great place to start when it comes to self-analysis of our strengths and weakness as well as our supports and areas of need. The main idea is to keep on working to improve ourselves by always trying to maintain and reinforce the positive associations we need to succeed in the ongoing struggle against substance abuse and addiction.

About the author
Kenneth Pecoraro, LCSW, LCADC, CCS has worked directly providing treatment for individuals with substance use and coexisting emotional-behavioral issues for over 20 years using a motivational, skills and strengths based, individualized client-centered perspective. The techniques explained in his method, Taking the Escalator: An Alternative to the 12 Steps, help individuals who are resistant to traditional approaches gain the tools needed for learning to increase insight and motivation for positive change.
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