How to Identify and Overcome Addiction Triggers

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One of the most challenging facets of substance use recovery is learning how to identify and overcome addiction triggers. While this process can take time, becoming aware of personal addiction triggers is imperative for establishing and maintaining sobriety. 

For those seeking additional assistance, Pathways Recovery Center is here to help. We offer an incredibly wide range of treatment program options to ensure that we can meet the individualized needs of each and every one of our clients. Furthermore, we are dedicated to helping our clients overcome addiction triggers so they can live lives free from the grips of substance use. 

What Does It Mean to Be Triggered?

All of us know the experience of being triggered by someone or something. When we feel triggered, we experience an intense emotional reaction to someone or something. Often, triggers serve as present reminders of painful memories or symptoms from the past. In this way, a trigger is considered an external stimulus.

However, it is important to understand that identifying a trigger as merely an external stimulus neglects to address the complexity of it. According to an article by Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, the authors pose a re-understanding of a trigger as “something ‘internal’ that relates all levels of complexity." By honoring the role that the inner experience plays in the intensity of and response to triggers, a person can experience greater autonomy as they work to navigate such triggers.

Understanding Addiction Triggers

An addiction trigger is anything that informs a thought, feeling, or memory of past substance use. As addiction triggers often facilitate physical or psychological cravings for alcohol and other drugs, they can pose obvious complications for treatment and recovery. To effectively secure and sustain sobriety, individuals must learn how to identify and overcome their addiction triggers. 

Internal Addiction Triggers

Triggers vary from person to person in type and severity. As mentioned previously, addiction triggers can be both internal and external. Internal addiction triggers are often related to internal emotions. For example, those who use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate difficult emotions may characterize emotions of sadness, fear, anxiety, or anger as addiction triggers. To appropriately navigate internal addiction triggers related to emotional distress, it is crucial to learn effective coping mechanisms for stress management and emotional regulation.

Contrary to what some may believe, however, internal addiction triggers are not only related to emotional distress. It is also common for individuals in recovery to characterize otherwise joyful experiences as an addiction trigger. For instance, celebrating someone else's successes or having a great conversation with a loved one may surface cravings for substance use to intensify feelings of contentment. To appropriately navigate internal addiction triggers related to emotional contentment, it is vital to redefine “fun” in sobriety and to practice mindfulness tactics to stay present in the moment.

Other examples of internal addiction triggers may include feelings of:

  • Loneliness or isolation
  • Intense stress or anxiety
  • Powerlessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anger
  • Joy
  • Frustration with recovery progress
  • Boredom

External Addiction Triggers

On the other hand, external addiction triggers are related to people, places, and things that a person may associate with past alcohol or drug use. In this way, an external addiction trigger can inform an internal trigger, informing physical or psychological cravings for substance use in a similar way. Some examples of external addiction triggers include:

  • Being exposed to alcohol and other drugs
  • Bars, parties, or other nightlife scenes
  • Spending time with people who continue to engage in alcohol and drug use (regardless of whether or not they are under the influence)
  • Experiencing financial distress from work
  • Being offered a drink at a gathering
  • Losing a loved one
  • Meeting new people
  • Watching shows or movies about drug use

Identifying Addiction Triggers

Understanding examples of internal and external addiction triggers does not automatically help a person identify their own triggers. To do so, it can be helpful to keep a journal or other log where an individual can jot down addiction triggers when they arise. Next to each addiction trigger, also write down any thoughts, emotions, and sensations that are known to arise when exposed to it. In addition, consider keeping in mind the following physical and psychological manifestations of addiction triggers:

  • Tightness in the chest or stomach
  • Increased heart rate or breathing rate
  • Feelings of nervousness or anxiety throughout the body
  • Reminiscing on memories of past substance use
  • Glorifying past substance use
  • Pondering future substance use
  • Planning how to obtain alcohol and drugs for the future

Overcoming Addiction Triggers

In early recovery, it is often advised to avoid external addiction triggers whenever possible. For triggers that cannot be realistically avoided, it is necessary to adopt healthy strategies for stress management. For example, participating in outlets for creative expression or a new hobby can be especially valuable when working through addiction triggers. In addition, it is also wise to create distance from anyone who continues to engage in alcohol and drug use, as being around these people can increase one's risk of relapse.

Other suggestions for overcoming addiction triggers include:

  • Distracting oneself from the trigger: This can be done by reading a book, exercising, playing a game, or talking with a friend. Remember, like cravings, addiction triggers pass with time. 
  • Talking through the trigger: By discussing triggers with a loved one or therapist, it can lessen the intensity of a trigger.
  • Participate in treatment: At Pathways Recovery Center, we can help clients overcome triggers through the use of various treatment modalities.

Addiction triggers are both external stimuli as well as internal experiences. Intense emotions, whether good or bad, can inform physical and psychological addiction cravings, just as experiences like conflict and loss can. Learning how to identify and overcome addiction triggers is necessary to establish and sustain lasting sobriety. At Pathways Recovery Center, we offer numerous treatment programs and therapeutic modalities to ensure that we have what clients need to effectively process their addiction triggers and cravings. We believe in the value of both peer and professional support for overcoming addiction and mental health disorders, and both of these factors will play a crucial role in your ability to recover. Call (888) 771-0966 to learn more today.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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