The workplace is commonly proven to be a relapse trigger for those recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Regardless of the area of work, the use of substances is frequently associated with many employed individuals due to the stress and hustle of today’s work culture.

People often seek relief at the end of their shift—whether a drink of alcohol or a hit of some drug—it can become a weekly or daily routine. Many will use the excuse that this is how they “function” or “keep the edge off” but shy away from the fact that their routine is becoming a problem. It’s challenging for someone in early recovery that’s jumping back into a full-time job after being discharged.

What Are Triggers in Addiction?

A “trigger” evokes an adverse emotional reaction in someone, commonly called a “sensory reminder.” A trigger could be a song, person, place, smell, sound, or a specific situation that reminds of a traumatic memory. Triggers can cause feelings of anxiety, panic, discomfort, or even temptation.

Triggers are formed after someone endures a painful experience as sensory reminders of the event. Apart from trauma, someone in recovery from alcohol or substance abuse can experience addiction triggers. Addiction triggers either upset or stress or tempts someone in recovery. The workplace often acts as an addiction trigger due to the stressful and high-strung environment.

An addiction trigger could be your coworkers talking about going to the bar after work, your boss putting pressure and stress on you or overworking and exhausting yourself past your limit. Knowing your limits in recovery is vital—especially in your place of work.

Common Relapse Triggers

Addiction triggers can be external and internal—common relapse triggers in recovery can include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Photos or videos
  • Sound or songs
  • Scents
  • A place (park, restaurant, shop, building, etc.)
  • Physical or mental pain
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of sadness and loneliness
  • Friendships and romantic relationships
  • Social gatherings or outings

Everyone’s triggers are catered to their trauma and personal experience, meaning that what triggers you might not trigger someone else. It’s essential always to be aware and considerate of your triggers and other people’s.

Coping with Addiction Triggers in the Workplace

Depending on your field of work, the type of addiction triggers you encounter in the workplace will differ due to different environments and circumstances. One of the first steps to learning how to cope with triggers is having the ability to identify them. Knowing your triggers will help you avoid situations that might trigger and upset you. While we can’t control every little thing, the things we can control are the people we surround ourselves with and the environments we spend our time in.

If your workplace is unhealthy, it might be time for you to look for a new job that offers more comfortable conditions. An article in the National Library of Medicine discusses how many workplaces don’t provide the resources or a stable enough environment for those struggling with addiction. The article states, “So-called “high-functioning addicts” exist across all sectors, and workplaces aren’t intervening early enough, which puts those who have addictions at a higher risk of physical and psychological harm, experts argue.”

Finding a job that considers but prioritizes your health and well-being is crucial, especially for your early recovery success. No matter where you choose to work, you will experience triggers. Whether in a restaurant, warehouse, or office, it’s ultimately up to you to decide if there’s a better solution.

How to Cope with Triggers

Discipline in early recovery is so crucial when it comes to being faced with triggers and tempting situations. It’s so common for those in early recovery to assume they’ve mastered a level of self-control to be in certain crowds and environments that aren’t sober-friendly. This incredibly dangerous mindset can result in triggered emotions and potential relapse.

Examine yourself before deciding whether you feel secure placing yourself in a non-sober setting. Whether it’s a work event, dinner with friends, or a tough night after a shift—establishing coping mechanisms and strategies that work for you will help contribute to long-term recovery.

Find a Strategy that Works for You

Finding one that works for you might take a couple of times when creating your coping strategy. How you cope is personalized to you and your triggers with addiction, not someone else. Defining your triggers and applying coping strategies will set you up for success in recovery.

Removing yourself from a triggering situation and practicing self-reassurance and breathwork while dismissing negative thoughts is an effective coping technique.

Prioritize Your Mental and Physical Health

Prioritizing your mental and physical health may be redundant, but it is essential for our quality of life. Partaking in daily activities that boost your serotonin levels reduces feelings of stress and anxiety. These activities could include walking or running, spending time in good company, cooking a nutritious meal, or even resting your mind and body.

Another critical method is checking your HALT levels—HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Whenever we’re experiencing one of these emotions, it decreases serotonin levels. It puts us in a vulnerable state—encountering an addiction trigger while in a vulnerable state makes you more susceptible to relapse.

Staying Involved with Support Groups and Your Sober Community

Involving yourself in the sober community and support groups following treatment is constructive in early recovery. Treatment programs will often encourage you to maintain a connection with other recovering addicts that can relate to and understand what you’re going through. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are the most common 12-step support groups that offer sober guidance and fellowship at every one of their meetings.

Your support system can either make or break you—surround yourself with positive friends and family that will support you and keep you accountable throughout your recovery journey.