Relapse Triggers (Men vs. Women)

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Relapse Triggers (Men vs. Women)

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While addiction may look similar across the board, from the very beginning there are differences that set men apart from women. When entering recovery, gender specific treatment can help address the issues at hand. One key area that should be examined carefully is common relapse triggers and how these triggers differ by gender.

Overview of Triggers

A trigger is an event or situation that causes an action or additional situation. When talking about recovery from addiction, there are going to be a number of triggers many people may encounter. A recovering addict may have been warned about some of these situations and taught how to best navigate them. Others may need to be avoided altogether.

While specific triggers may vary slightly from person to person, here are some general relapse triggers:

  • People and Places Related to the Addiction: Those who were previously involved in an addict’s life prior to recovery may not be those who should be in their life afterward. Interacting with those still using substances or being in places where the substance abuse occurred could easily lead to a relapse.

  • Co-Occurring Mental Disorders: Roughly half of those suffering from an addiction have a co-occurring mental disorder such as depression or anxiety. When left untreated or undiagnosed, an addict will often use their substance to self-medicate, putting himself/herself in harm’s way and at risk for relapse.

  • H.A.L.T.: Strong emotions can trigger a relapse. The most common being Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Tiredness.

  • Dating and Relationships: A person who has recently begun their recovery journey should avoid entering into a new relationship for at least one year after completing treatment.

  • Unrealistic Expectations: If someone goes into recovery with the thought they will never struggle or potentially relapse, they may encounter feelings of frustration or failure. This can lead to a complete relapse.


We will now examine how men specifically are affected by triggers and which ones play a stronger role in recovery and relapse.


  • Relationships: It is not uncommon for men to transfer their addiction to a sexually related activity if they have not addressed the underlying emotional and psychological issues of their initial addiction. This makes it that much more important for them to avoid dating and new relationships until they are in a healthier state.

  • Social Situations: Alcoholics Anonymous found that men are more likely to relapse when they are in a social-drinking situation. Men should strive to surround themselves with those who will not perpetuate their former habits and keep them in a safe environment.

  • Support: Men are more likely to stop attending 12-step programs and other aftercare activities with the thought that they can handle it on their own,. This cocky attitude leads them to not have the support system they need in order to truly fight their addiction.

  • Mental Health: It has been found that men are more likely to relapse during positive emotional states, so a lack of depression and the like does not necessarily mean all is well.


Women are more likely to be affected by triggers in general, making them more susceptible to relapse than men. It is important to be aware of the situations that may lead to these triggers.


  • Lack of Self Focus: Women are more likely to throw themselves into all the roles they fill in their lives and not focus on themselves. Often this causes them to lose a sense of self and ends in loneliness and self-doubt.

  • Recovery Concerns: Recovery is not without its consequences and while most are positive, others may seem less desirable. For example, many women are afraid to stop smoking due to the weight gain that may occur.

  • Support: Just as men need support through recovery, women do too. However, unlike men, women crave support, but are less likely to ask for it. This leads to them feeling alone.

  • Mental Health: Unlike men, women are more likely to relapse during times of sadness, depression, and helplessness. Finding ways to cope with these emotions is imperative to a successful recovery.

  • Codependency: Women are more likely than men to develop a codependent relationship. This means if a woman’s partner is using, they are more likely to relapse and return to their use as well.

Relapse triggers differ between the genders and from person to person. Understanding general and gender specific triggers, and learning how to best deal with or avoid them is an important part of the journey to recovery.

Ben is a Substance Use Disorder Counselor and began working in substance abuse treatment in 1987. During the past 25 years, he has worked in in-patient, residential, wilderness, intensive out-patient, and out-patient adolescent and adult programs. He has spent the majority of those years in management positions including executive director and national director responsible for the safe and effective operations of several programs. He has also served as president of the Utah Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors and on national committees with NAADAC and ICRC.
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