What Are Triggers In Recovery?


Every person overcoming an addiction needs to understand how triggers can impact the long-term success of their recovery. In fact, understanding your triggers might be the most important thing to know so that you can identify the factors that could pull you back into the addiction again.

Triggers are unique to each person, which is why a customized recovery program is essential. A trigger is anything that sparks an impulse or memory that leads to the use of alcohol or drugs. What are things that make an addict want to use?

Triggers fall into five categories:

  • Sensory
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Relational
  • Situational

Triggers can be in the form of environmental influences, such as people, places, or things. Or, they can also be emotional, such as anxiety or anger. These emotions can sometimes drive a person back to drug or alcohol use to cope with the situation.

There are times when anxiety or depression could play a role in the trigger to use. For example, a person with an anxiety disorder might be upset by an argument or disagreement, resulting in an anxiety attack. Then, anxiety leads to the urge to use as a way to escape an uncomfortable situation.

Tips to Identify Triggers

Therapists help people identify triggers as a form of relapse prevention and then support with strategies to cope with these thoughts and feelings. The key is to pay attention to both physical and psychological symptoms. When these symptoms are paired with an event, object, or person, then the addict can identify the connection between the trigger and drug or alcohol use.

Common physical symptoms that indicate a trigger might include nervousness or tightness in the stomach. Psychological signs can include a variety of thoughts and feelings. If these thoughts increase in frequency, then it is important to work with a therapist to avoid the risk of relapse:

  • Thinking about how good it would feel to drink or use drugs
  • Evaluating the best way to get access to the substance
  • Feeling a deep need to have the substance
  • Reminiscing about the times of using in the past

You can’t always avoid the triggers or temptations. But, you have the control to choose how you will respond. Just because a trigger is presented, doesn’t mean that you don’t have the willpower to say “no.”

Once you identify your triggers, then you can take the steps necessary to deal with them. Practicing the skill of managing and avoiding triggers is an important aspect of addiction recovery

Examples of Common Triggers

Here are a few examples of triggers that are common for addicts to face:

  • A person who was with you at the time of the addiction
  • A place where you commonly used in the past
  • Objects that remind you of old feelings associated with the substance abuse
  • Dates or anniversaries of painful life memories, such as trauma or loss
  • Exposure to the substance, such as an alcoholic going to a bar
  • Specific emotions, such as stress, fatigue, or frustration

How to Cope with Them

Learning to respond to a trigger might be one of the most valuable skills that can be learned in a treatment program. As you learn to respond to triggers without slipping into old habits, you will find it easier to stay on track with a healthy, happy life.

The key is to have a plan with your preferred coping techniques when you are feeling a moment of weakness. Examples might be calling your therapist or sponsor, spending time with a close friend, meditating, or going for a run. The goal is to substitute healthy activities in place of the need to use.

Keep in mind that it is essential to take care of yourself during this time. It is easier to manage triggers when you are sleeping enough, eating well, exercising, and staying aware of your emotions. Caring for yourself and being prepared with coping mechanisms are strategies that can be used to reduce the chances of relapse.