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How Do I Handle Addiction Triggers?

Any thought, feeling, or environmental factor that reminds a person of an addiction can be considered an addiction trigger. These triggers often put a person in recovery through both emotional and mental turmoil, so handling them is important when it comes to maintaining sobriety.

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This can be done by first identifying what exactly the triggers are, which can be people, places, smells, or anything else that sparks a memory of a person’s addiction. Internal feelings, such as anxiety, fear, or frustration, can also be triggers for substance abuse. 

Once a trigger has been pinpointed, the next step is to manage it in a healthy way. Self-awareness and coping abilities are the best ways to handle addiction triggers.

What Are Addiction Triggers?

An addiction trigger is any feeling, thought, situation, or natural surrounding that reminds a person of their addiction and past substance use. These memories or circumstances typically invoke a positive response in the brain’s stimuli in correlation to what a person is addicted to. 

This can be unbearably difficult to deal with for someone in recovery. It can lead to strong cravings and urges to use again. Luckily, these addiction triggers can be managed and do not necessarily lead to a relapse.

There are two types of addiction triggers: external and internal.

External Triggers

An external trigger is easier to identify. It is an outside factor that is influenced by a surrounding environment. These include people, places, things, times, scents, and any other external circumstances or objects. 

Internal Triggers

An internal trigger is an emotional response that can be manifested from external circumstances or can happen naturally without an outside influence. These internal triggers are felt within and can include feelings of anxiousness, fear, depression, or even happiness. Not all emotional triggers can lead to the relapse urge, but sadness does heighten that probability

Negatively Coping With External & Internal Triggers

Sometimes, when an addiction trigger is experienced and a relapse does not occur, a person still negatively deals with the feelings that the trigger invokes. This can include coping with the urges in other negative ways, such as making irresponsible choices, lashing out at others, or breaking down mentally. 

Due to the risk of an eventual relapse, unhealthy coping mechanisms should be avoided.

What Causes Addiction Triggers?

The exact cause of a trigger varies for each person with an addiction. A certain event or situation that might trigger an intense emotional response from one person that leads to cravings might not do anything for another person. Like emotions and responses from environmental surroundings, the cause of an addiction trigger is personal. 

Regardless of what event or feeling causes an addiction trigger, brain functionality typically handles triggers the same. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder that disrupts how a person’s psychological traits, emotions, and behaviors are processed in the brain. 

Once a trigger goes off, the brain’s stimuli expects an increase in the chemical dopamine. This leads to a person craving a substance that will provide the stimuli with more of that chemical. 

Understanding Addiction Triggers

The key to combating addiction triggers is understanding them. Once a trigger is identified, it can then be coped with and not lead to a relapse. 

Examples of External Triggers

External triggers are environmentally based, and internal triggers are emotionally based. Both types of triggers make a person want to relapse. 

External addiction triggers can include the following:

  • Specific places or locations
  • People who are using or you have used with in the past
  • Certain activities that were once carried out under the influence
  • Special occasions, anniversaries, or other specific times
  • Conflicts with people
  • Times of high stress
  • Media or marketing ads that feature addictive substances
  • Certain objects, such as alcohol or pill bottles

Examples of Internal Triggers

External triggers are usually easy to identify. However, internal triggers, which are emotional feelings, can be more subtle and difficult to detect. 

These are examples of internal triggers:

  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Self-loathing, hatred, or low self-esteem
  • Frustration and anger
  • Extreme happiness or elation

Although internal triggers are not as avoidable as external triggers, they can still be detected and managed. Once a trigger is identified, a person can be more prepared with their body’s emotional response. This will hopefully allow for the implementation of coping mechanisms that help the mind adjust, ultimately avoiding a relapse.

Why It Is So Important to Create Coping Mechanisms for Triggers

Self-awareness is the first and most important step to handling addiction triggers in a healthy way. Once a person realizes that the urges they are feeling are just addictive triggers and they become aware of this, they can begin coping with them. 

A coping mechanism is any strategy used to help manage a difficult situation, or in this case, addiction triggers. Coping mechanisms can ease the urges from the triggers and help navigate a person in recovery to safe and healthy outlets instead of giving into destructive habits and relapsing. 

Common coping methods that can be adopted in a sober and healthy lifestyle include the following:

  • Meditation
  • A healthy diet
  • Regular exercising
  • Talking to other people
  • Physical social activities, like walking with a friend
  • Counseling or therapy
  • Getting the right amount of sleep

Most external addiction triggers can also be subdued through coping mechanisms. If a place is triggering the itch to use again, you can always leave that specific place. If a certain activity is causing addiction triggers, do not engage in that activity. 

Adopting common coping methods and living a healthier lifestyle can also help to mentally process external triggers. Over time, the power of these triggers will usually dissipate, though they may always have some pull over you.

Negative Coping Mechanisms

Negative coping mechanisms are another way the body can handle addiction triggers, but they should always be avoided. They typically lead to other conditions and addictions, which prevent a healthy lifestyle. 

Negative coping mechanisms can include the following:

  • Engaging in self-harm
  • Overeating
  • Oversleeping
  • Taking out your anger on others
  • Compulsively shopping

Creating a Life Built Around New Coping Mechanisms

Successfully completing a rehabilitation program is just the first part of a long-term recovery. In order to not give into the temptation of external and internal triggers, life after treatment should be built around new coping mechanisms. Identifying the trigger you are experiencing, being prepared for that trigger, and coping with it in a positive and healthy way is a solid process to avoid relapse.  
In addition to developing new coping mechanisms and a healthier lifestyle, ongoing support throughout recovery is essential. Being open and honest with friends and family while keeping in touch with peers and counselors from treatment helps form a solid foundation of support. This support and preparedness hopefully makes living a sober and healthy lifestyle that much more attainable.

Updated June 12, 2023
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