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Identifying Cues for Addiction, Understanding Relapse and Moving Towards Recovery

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Identifying Cues for Addiction, Understanding Relapse and Moving Towards Recovery

We can’t predict what’s going to happen throughout the day, and sometimes upsetting thoughts or situations can occur. We may receive bad news about something that meant a lot to us, we may suddenly feel agitated or depressed, or our thoughts and feelings may occur because of an unknown cues that came up in our mind or environment. With so many different factors at play, it can be challenging to navigate – and one of the most feared aspects of recovery involves relapse. Previous research has shown that relapse is quite a normal part of recovery, yet it’s still something that many people struggle with. When a person relapses, they essentially revert back to old addiction habits – and it can happen to even the strongest people in recovery sometimes.

Addiction Cues

First, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what can cause a person to want to revert back to old addictive ways. There are inherently two types of cues that can creep up on us, causing us to think about and begin taking steps towards substance abuse again: external and internal cues.


  • People – getting into contact with someone whom you used to abuse substances with, seeing someone who used to deal you drugs, etc.
  • Places – passing by or being in a place that you used to drink or use drugs in
  • Things – finding a bottle of wine in the fridge upon your return home from treatment, noticing some unused painkillers in your significant other’s medicine cabinet, noticing a cigarette sitting on the table at a friend’s house
  • Events – holidays, birthdays, times of the day when a person used to abuse substances, etc.

Now that you know more about situational occurrences, you can become more familiar with internal cues – which often can’t be seen from an outsider’s perspective.

Internal Cues

  • Physical sensations – feeling tension, stress, exhaustion, hunger
  • Thoughts – constantly thinking about something that’s been bothering you

Recovery and Distress Tolerance

In psychology, distress tolerance is a person’s ability to work through difficult or “impossible to change” situations. Negative (and otherwise unbearable) emotions can make life seem unbearable; and if we’re not careful in managing distress, we may find ourselves in the throes of even more painful emotions. In early recovery, this can be one of the most challenges parts of healing because the mind, body, and spirit are used to numbing itself through substances – however, with practice and over time, a person can become stronger.

In previous studies, researchers sought to explore how distress tolerance related to relapse when it came to people who were just at the beginning of their road to recovery. They concluded that low distress tolerance is associated with drug-related reward-seeking behaviors – which could lead to relapse. In fact, those in recovery have explained that relapse was at it’s highest during the first few weeks because circumstances and thoughts can be so incredibly tempting.

When we’re faced with these tempting circumstances, how should we handle them? It can feel so hard to ignore the cravings to use substances, especially if they seemed to lessen some of the stress or pain that you were feeling before – even if only temporarily. What you must remind yourself is what happens after your relapse. How do you feel? What happens around you? Sometimes exploring the aftermath of relapse can help a person to remember why they never want to do it again.

Resources for Recovery

With so many opportunities for distractions, we must balance ourselves with tools that we’ve gained in treatment. Therapy is a strong component of recovery because it allows you to work through some of the deeper, inner issues that you’ve been experiencing that you may not have had a chance to work through yet. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, is an excellent approach to recovery because it helps individuals identify thought processes that are truly harming their recovery – and that’s when true growth can occur.

12-Step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Refuge, and SMART meetings are great additions to treatment because they promote structure in recovery, as well as connect you with others who are working towards recovery as well. There are a variety of treatment components that can help boost your strength in recovery and can serve as excellent additions to your routine:

  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Yoga
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Guided Imagery
  • And More

In recovery, you have to rely upon – and use – the tools you’ve been given. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but you will only become more confident in your ability to work through difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions once you’ve been incorporating a variety of useful strategies over time. 

Call Burning Tree Ranch today for more information.


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