What Is a Trigger?

A trigger is something that causes an event or incident to occur. In recovery, triggers are often referred to as certain feelings, emotions, events, or people that might cause a recovering addict to be tempted to use. Hearing an old song, smelling a familiar scent, or seeing something that reminds you of your past life in addiction could all act as a trigger. Identifying your triggers and knowing how to manage them when they come up is crucial to fighting off the cravings and temptation to use them. Creating your own coping strategy is essential in early recovery, as it can be difficult to work up the strength to resist these triggers on your own.

Common Relapse Triggers

In addiction recovery, it is common to experience internal and external triggers daily. Some of these triggers may include:

  • Reminders of past trauma(s)
  • Negative emotions (sadness, guilt, frustration, anger, etc.)
  • Loneliness
  • Sounds or smells
  • Places
  • Pictures, videos, or songs
  • Fatigue
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Mental or physical illness
  • Unhealthy or toxic relationships
  • Romantic relationships
  • Social gatherings

Each of these triggers has the power to evoke the temptation to have a drink or a hit to ease the feelings you’re experiencing. An unhealthy state of mind puts you in a vulnerable place, leaving room for compromise and poor choices. It’s imperative that when you experience these triggers, you have a healthy method to fight them off as well as an encouraging support system.

How to Cope with Addiction Triggers

Oftentimes, recovering addicts might believe they have the self-control to participate in non-sober gatherings and maybe even take one drink—especially in early recovery. This is not always the case and could potentially lead to relapse. There will be a time when you might find yourself disciplined enough to be in a non-sober environment. However, you must give yourself ample time to recover and heal before you do.

1. Create Your Own Strategy

Creating a coping strategy might seem difficult at first, and may take a few times to find what works for you. How you cope is tailored to your own experience and personal needs, which is why it won’t always look like everyone else’s method—and that’s okay. Establishing a method to use when triggers arise will benefit and equip you for future instances.

 A simple coping method could be:

  1. Identifying what the trigger is and why it is triggering you
  2. Practicing self-reassurance to avoid compromise
  3. Removing yourself from the situation and dispensing any negative thoughts

Keep trying different methods until you find the one that works for you.

2. Get Involved in Sober Communities and Support Groups

Surrounding yourself with people who are on a similar journey is one of the most beneficial courses of action to keep you accountable in early recovery. Sober-friendly gatherings and support groups are great for recovering addicts to socialize in a safe and reliable environment. Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are 12-step programs that promote sobriety and fellowship through meetings at no expense.

Every individual in the sober community is trying their best to achieve and sustain a life of sobriety just as you are. Healthy relationships will challenge you to do better and encourage you to thrive and prosper, all the while helping you cope with your triggers.

3. Prioritize Self-Care

Studies show that practicing and prioritizing self-care is guaranteed to reduce anxiety and stress levels and boost serotonin levels. Hearing that you should practice self-care may seem redundant. However, it’s reiterated because of how fundamental and beneficial it is to your overall health and well-being.

Self-care is:

  • Prioritizing what your mind, body, and soul need to be happy and healthy
  • Attending a weekly or monthly one-on-one therapy session to discuss your progress and potential setbacks
  • Spending time by yourself to reset and recharge
  • Spending time with people that bring out the best version of you
  • Creating a personalized schedule to keep your life sane and organized
  • Exploring hobbies and activities that you enjoy

Self-care is simply taking care of yourself—whatever that might look like for you. Everyone’s self-care practices and routines look different, as we all have different interests and needs. When you implement self-care into your life, it can help to manage those unwanted, negative thoughts and feelings. When you start to feel triggered, something as simple as going for a walk, taking a hot shower, or calling a friend could be your means of coping.

4. Create a Routine for Yourself

According to Northwestern Medicine, people who don’t have a routine often suffer from stress, poor sleep, poor eating, poor physical condition, and ineffective use of time. While the benefits of a daily routine may include better stress levels, better sleep, and better health.

Having a consistent routine doesn’t necessarily mean doing the same things simultaneously every day. A routine is when your priorities are aligned and in place on your daily schedule. Your routine could include some form of daily exercise—working out, doing yoga, or going for a walk or run. A daily routine represents and reflects who you are as an individual. Taking care of your mental and physical wellness can look like spending a few minutes saying positive affirmations, cooking a healthy meal, reading or journaling for 10-15 minutes, or taking time to relax and unwind at the end of your day.

Triggers don’t have to overcome our internal or external being. Learning how to manage and cope with addiction triggers is a common shared experience in recovery that you’re not alone in. As you find a coping method that works for you and continue to prioritize your healing and overall well-being, this is going to facilitate your success in long-term sobriety.