Triggers for Addiction: How To Identify and Avoid Them
If you’re in recovery for substance use disorder (SUD), you’ve likely heard about the warnings of triggers for addiction. Fighting a battle against drug addiction or alcohol use disorder is a long game — it requires commitment for life to remain drug and alcohol-free.
Those who have been through addiction recovery and have made it to the other side know the powerful triggers that can push the most well-intentioned recovering addict into relapsing and starting to use again.
Not everyone relapses, but many people struggle with relapsing as part of their addiction recovery, and many people face setbacks before beating their addiction. If you’ve relapsed, know that you’re not alone. In fact, 40 to 60 percent of people relapse with a substance abuse disorder.
This is why understanding triggers for addiction is such an important part of your recovery journey.
What Is an Addiction Trigger?
Addiction triggers can crop up from a myriad of circumstances. Triggers are different for everyone, and one factor is what got you to start using in the first place, as well as the tipping point that pushed you to abuse substances in a way that negatively impacted your life.
Triggers can be external or internal in nature. External triggers can involve being at places where you used to be, being around people who are associated with your past drug or alcohol use, or even a thing — such as your ex-partner’s t-shirt who used to be your partying pal through your days of addiction.
Internal triggers represent negative emotions and feelings that bring back thoughts or sensations of the feel-good parts of using, and these emotions can trick your mind into wanting those good feelings again.
Don’t Let Triggers Manage You
Make no mistake; both internal and external triggers are traps. Some people in recovery have described this false sense of remembering the good times of using a toxic relationship and only remembering the good times. Addiction recovery is not a straight line.
If you’re in recovery now or haven’t fully committed to recovery yet, remember that every recovery journey is unique, and there will be bumps along the way. Triggers can cause cravings, and they’re just one aspect of recovery. You can learn to manage triggers so they don’t manage you, and avoid putting yourself at high risk for relapse.
Types of Addiction Triggers
Common relapse triggers that can put you at risk of relapse are many times, places, or people associated with old habits. Scientific studies have shown that a cluster of stress-related cues is the culprit of many addiction triggers for relapse. Top triggers boil down to people, places, things, and moods.
You may not even recognize it’s happening, but triggers can be small warning signs to steer clear of anything or anyone who causes negative emotions or brings you back to the days of substance abuse.
Sometimes you may not even realize something or someone is a trigger until you stop and reflect. We all get busy with our day-to-day obligations with work, school, or family, and stopping to reflect on our emotions at any given moment can be helpful.
If you feel emotions such as anger, anxiousness, fear, or guilt at a particular place or around a familiar face, ask yourself to identify your emotion and reflect on what’s causing it to occur. This can go a long way in managing emotions and triggers.
Familiar Places Associated With Substance Abuse
Frequenting the old places where you used to imbibe drugs or alcohol can be an addiction trigger. This type of trigger conjures up scenes from Cheers, where everybody knows your name. Heading to your old drinking spots or places where you used to use drugs can be a recipe for disaster and ripe for relapse.
Just One Drink Rule
Avoid the “just one drink” rule. Stopping at the bar and telling yourself that “just one drink” is ok is a slippery slope that many recovering addicts go down. Depending on your addiction's strength, something as minor as one drink could send you right back to your old habits at the first sip.
Triggers can also come from the stresses of everyday life. Let’s face it — life can be hard sometimes and can throw us curve balls that we never saw coming when we least expect it.
HALT is an acronym used in recovery. It stands for the words: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Did you know that something this simple can trigger using again and throw you into a relapse? Managing these emotions is a simple habit.
The next time you have a craving, ask yourself, “ Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tied?” If the answer is no, dig deeper into what is causing you to crave substances.
Friends You Partied With
Remember the friends you used to hang out with for a good time, and this is always substance abuse? It’s advised to steer clear of old friends who are still partying, at least in the beginning stages of recovery, so you don’t get tempted to use it again. Also, it’s best to let friends know you’ve stopped drinking or using, so they don’t offer it.
Any friends who try to pressure you into using or question your choice to abstain from substances may need to be seriously evaluated. True friends will respect you and your decision. Friends are people we care about, so they can have the strongest influence on relapsing. Make sure they’re worthy of your friendship.
Pro Tip: Some people in recovery keep this on a notecard or in the notes section on their phone to refer to when they are tempted to relapse. Along your sobriety journey, as you get in touch with your triggers, it’s a good idea to write these down in a journal, on your phone, or in some place where you keep private thoughts.
It may be harmful to friends or family members to know that they’re a trigger for your substance abuse, but when it comes to your health and recovering from drugs or alcohol, sometimes these are hard truths to face, and it’s time to put your health and your recovery first. You’ve got this.
Combating Triggers That Contribute to Relapse
Did you know there are many stages of relapse and, often, a relapse brewing several weeks or even months before a recovering addict starts to use again? Among the types of triggers we have discussed, other factors contribute to relapse and lessen your ability to manage triggers.
Check out these tips on ways to manage triggers and keep relapse at bay:
Stop and Meditate
When you’re feeling negative emotions that can contribute to addiction relapse triggers, remind yourself to stop and meditate. Mediation doesn’t need to be a long, 30-minute session with chimes in the background, but it certainly can be.
Meditation can be five minutes of you closing the bathroom stall door at work so you can breathe deeply and manage cravings or emotions that put you on high alert for triggers.
Pro tip: Some smartwatches even have a built-in mediation feature that lets you choose a five-minute, ten-minute, or fifteen-minute option. When we meditate, we slow down thoughts and reflect; we stay in the moment. This can help to ease the stress of daily life and minimize the chance of triggers.
Getting physical exercise may be the detox you didn’t know you needed. Studies show that people who adopt an exercise routine and regularly engage in physical exercise are less likely to abuse substances.
If you’ve never tried therapy, now may be the perfect time! Focusing on your mental health can assist in managing your emotions and having an outlet for speaking freely, and you may even discover things about yourself you didn’t know.
Therapy is a great way to keep tabs on your emotional state and discover your emotional triggers. Regular therapy sessions can also help you avoid a mental relapse and help you to establish coping skills, which is an invaluable skill in life — especially in recovery.
You can consult your medical provider for referrals or interview a couple of therapists to determine who is the best fit for your personality. Some therapists specialize in substance abuse and are well-versed in detox, relapsing, and the stages of recovery.
Sometimes, past emotional responses can become clearer with the help of a therapist. In some cases, untreated mental illness can be a trigger in itself, when people are never treated but have used drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
It may surprise you that 37.9 percent of adults with a substance abuse disorder of some kind also have a mental illness. This is referred to as comorbidity. Among these people, 52.5 percent never received mental health treatment or treatment for substance abuse. Be wary of overconfidence with your recovery, even if you’ve been sober for years.
Engage in Self-Care
If you think self-care is selfish and a luxury you don’t have time for, you should reevaluate self-care and its impact on recovery. Self-care is one piece of developing your support system. When you choose to embark on a self-care routine of any kind, you’re telling yourself that you’re worth it.
How To Deal With Addiction Triggers
Dealing with triggers is part of the recovery process. We’ve provided some ways to combat triggers using exercise, meditation, self-care, and considering therapy to keep emotions in check. Relapse prevention is something that every recovering addict continues to work towards, learning new skills along the way.
Relying on loved ones as part of a support network can be helpful, but establishing your own set of coping mechanisms is equally important. Finding healthy ways to deal with your emotions will go a long way toward your recovery and overall wellness.
Get Support and Smash Your Triggers
There are many ways to get support to help manage triggers, including formal treatment facilities that can set up structured treatment plans. Depending on the severity of your addiction, you may want to enlist your healthcare provider for a referral to an outpatient or inpatient treatment program. Sometimes a treatment center is a great way to start your recovery. Treatment centers can help with withdrawal symptoms, detox, and aftercare.
Another great option is to join a sobriety app and become a free member. Sober Sidekick is an app delivered from the convenience of your phone and offers a support group like no other.
Check out the features Sober Sidekick offers:
24/7 support available
100% free downloadable app
Daily motivational messages
Messaging to find alliances and accountability partners
Anonymity if you choose
Triggers can hit you when you least expect it — Sober Sidekick always has your back, and you have access to a supportive, non-judgmental group anytime you need it.
Identifying triggers and learning to deal with them is an important part of your relapse prevention plan when recovering from an addiction. Recovering in isolation is a long, hard road.
Consider joining more than 180,000 people who have committed to a sobriety journey, and download Sober Sidekick today!