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Those seeking healing from substance abuse and mental health challenges may not be shocked to learn that the process of recovery is much more than merely abstaining from harmful behaviors. For instance, triggers of addiction and mental health disorders develop from your immediate environment. Thus, in recovery, identifying these triggers and altering your environment accordingly is critical to best-preventing relapse and sustaining healthy habits long-term. 

At CCM, we recognize that the process of recovery is both challenging and complex as it requires you to make intimate changes to your daily lives and routines to effectively establish sobriety and recovery. Fortunately, we are committed to helping individuals and families during this time by providing comprehensive concierge services connecting clients to the most appropriate treatment services and long-term wellness options. In addition to establishing individualized treatment plans and recovery regimens, we can also help clients access residential homes, such as sober living homes, that are conducive to lasting healing and facilitate ongoing transformation beyond addiction. 

The Role of Your Environment in Increasing Addiction Risk

A combination of risk factors can increase your risk of using substances and developing an addiction throughout your life. Categories of risk factors are most commonly broken down into biological risk factors, such as your unique genes, as well as environmental factors, such as factors related to your direct environment. Specific examples of environmental risk factors for addiction can include growing up in a home where parents used or misused drugs, experiencing parental neglect or abuse, and enduring various other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). 

Why do environmental factors have such a significant effect on addiction risk, you may ask? Well, it is important to recognize that biological and environmental risk factors share an overlap, defined as epigenetics. Pharmacogenomics defines epigenetics as “the regulation of the heritable and potentially reversible changes in gene expression that occur without alterations in the DNA sequence. Further, as stated by the National Insititute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

Scientists estimate that genes, including the effects environmental factors have on a person’s gene expression, called epigenetics, account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s risk of addiction.

In short, traumatic and other stressful experiences – that exist as a result of your environment – change your genes, and these changes can make you more vulnerable to using substances and developing addiction. Furthermore, once an addiction develops, you will need to evaluate and overcome your environmental triggers to successfully establish sobriety and sustain lasting recovery.

How Your Environment Can Trigger Relapse in Recovery

To understand how your environment influences your recovery journey, it is necessary to recognize the role of dopamine in perpetuating addiction. As explained by NIDA, dopamine is an important neurotransmitter responsible for the formation of habits and routines. Continuing, our brains are wired to identify and reinforce beneficial behaviors through the feeling of pleasure. Therefore:

Whenever the reward circuit is activated by a healthy, pleasurable experience, a burst of dopamine signals that something important is happening that needs to be remembered. This dopamine signal causes changes in neural connectivity that make it easier to repeat the activity again and again without thinking about it, leading to the formation of habits.

Moreover, drug use triggers large surges of dopamine in the brain, working to reinforce the connection between substance use, the associated feeling of pleasure, and “all the external cues linked to the experience.” In this way, environmental cues and triggers become significant factors in perpetuating continued substance use and even motivating relapse throughout long-term recovery.  

For example, some individuals in active addiction may hang around certain people who also engage in substance use because it makes substance use more convenient. Yet, hanging around the same people in recovery can cause cravings for substance use, potentially jeopardizing the recovery process. Similarly, other environmental factors such as having substances readily accessible in recovery or getting into extreme bouts of conflict with those one resides with can also pose immense relapse risks in sobriety. 

Effectively Assessing Your Environment in Sobriety

If you are choosing to commit yourself to sobriety and recovery, it is necessary to assess your environment to ensure that it is conducive to abstinence. As a general rule of thumb, if you feel triggered to engage in alcohol or drug use as a result of environmental factors, you may want to consider altering your environment for the sake of your sobriety. In addition to the environmental factors mentioned above, if you are living with others who continue to engage in substance use or frequent places where you used to drink or use drugs, you will want to alter your environment. 

Fortunately, the recovery journey presents you with endless opportunities to reside in new environments throughout your treatment and sobriety. For example, you may consider participating in a residential treatment program, where you will reside for the entire duration of your treatment. You may also consider residing in a sober living home or using this resource as a transition between residential and outpatient care. These environments are free from substance-use triggers and provide ongoing access to peer and professional support, necessary for establishing and sustaining sobriety and recovery. Reach out to us at CCM today to learn about what options are available to you. 

Your environment can have a direct effect on your risk of addiction, but it can also have a direct impact on your ability to establish sobriety. Various environmental triggers – such as high conflict, the presence of alcohol and other drug use by roommates, and feeling unsupported by your support system – can trigger relapse and jeopardize your recovery throughout your long-term recovery. Thus, it is necessary to identify environmental triggers and alter your environment accordingly to ensure lasting healing and success. At CCM, we can connect you with the treatment and ancillary services you need to promote your well-being and sobriety. To learn more about how we can help and support you, call (855) 467-3226 today.