Certain circumstances, including sights, sounds, tastes, and smells, can trigger our senses and our memory banks to tap into the files in our past and recall those incidences where drugs were used to make us feel a certain way. Enormous happiness, elation, celebration, devastating sadness, isolation and loneliness, anger, and exhaustion—these can trigger our memories and put us in a state of stress.

The triggered brain will seek out the old drug, the old behaviors, old friends, and old locations in search of that set of circumstances or substances that will relieve us.

Addiction triggers can be very obvious—the sound of laughter from a bar, the smell of beer, the pop of a cork, the lighting of a pipe, the sight of a syringe, a beer commercial, an old song, a vacation, good news, bad news, an unexpected letter, enormous happiness, or enormous sorrow. Any of these can create anxiety that triggers our brain to use.

Addiction is always with us, we are always recovering and never quite recovered. That is because as we get more time in sobriety, we become more aware of the enormous consequences of addiction. Its ability to resurface in our life becomes more, rather than less, evident. We can keep the disease in remission, but its capacity to resurface should never be underestimated.

When we think drinking or using is a logical choice because it is better than suicide or insanity, which seems to be the only other options, we’re hard-pressed to come up with a reason not to relapse. Relapse is the process of being dysfunctional in sobriety. We paint ourselves into a corner; we convince ourselves using is logical; and we pick up our drink or drugs—the end of the relapse process.

The key is awareness. Ideally, if those close to us tell us our behaviors are veering into relapse behaviors, we will want recovery bad enough to take action on our own behalf, perhaps by going to more meetings and openly talking about our self-discoveries with family and professionals. We are looking for those signs of exhaustion and of weakening boundaries; of increased work schedules and decreased recovery schedules; of failure to keep promises and of little white lies—the subtle things that are often observed and not talked about.