Identifying Triggers is Necessary for Recovery
Many people mistakenly believe that quitting drugs or alcohol is just simple matter of quitting. They think, “What’s the big deal? Just don’t put drugs or alcohol in your body and move on with your life!”
We wish it were that easy. If it were, our country wouldn’t be smack dab in the middle of the opioid epidemic. Fatal drug overdoses are at an all-time high. An estimated 70,000 people died from a fatal overdose in 2017 because of addiction. We believe it is fair to say that most of them desperately wanted to get sober.
If addicted people could simply make the decision to get sober, snap their fingers, and turn their lives around; they would. But, having a substance use disorder is a complicated endeavor. Recovery is not easy and most people require addiction treatment to reclaim their lives once they become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Triggers provide a perfect example of why staying sober isn’t as simple as it seems. Unless you have experienced them personally, you cannot imagine how difficult it can be to navigate a trigger without giving in to temptation.
Let’s talk about triggers and explain why identifying them is vital to the recovery process. This will not only help sober people stay sober; it will also educate those who don’t fully understand the disease of addiction.
What Are Triggers?
In simple terms, a trigger is anything that brings back thoughts, feelings, or memories of an addiction.
Triggers happen for people who are in recovery from a substance use disorder. But, they can also happen for people who have been hooked on gambling, sex, food, and other types of behavioral addictions. Sometimes, a trigger can lead to a craving, which is defined as an intense desire to do something.
Here’s how it works:
(1) someone will experience a trigger that will remind them of drugs or alcohol
(2) as a result of their thoughts or feelings, they experience an intense desire to get high or drunk (3) the person either manages the craving and stays sober or they experience a relapse
Identifying triggers and coping with cravings is absolutely necessary for those who want to enjoy ongoing sobriety.
A Few Examples of Triggers
Here are just a few examples of triggers that can spark the memory of drug or alcohol use:
- Seeing drug paraphernalia
- Using the ATM to withdrawal cash
- Seeing cold beer on ice at the convenient store
- Driving through neighborhoods where you used to score drugs
- Seeing people you used to get high or drunk with
- Certain songs or types of music
- Seeing someone else using drugs or drinking alcohol
- Certain smells (like the smell of alcohol or marijuana, for example)
- Movies or TV shows that depict drug or alcohol use
Also, situations or uncomfortable feelings can become triggers:
- A romantic breakup or divorce
- Getting passed up for a promotion or getting fired from a job
- The death of a loved one (including your pet)
- Feelings of rejection
- Financial difficulties
- Family problems
Identifying triggers is an essential component of relapse prevention. Once someone in recovery knows what triggers them, they are in a much better position to stay sober one day at a time.
What to Do After You Identify Your Triggers
As the old saying goes, “Knowing is half the battle.” When you know what your triggers are, you are halfway there. Of course, there is still half a battle left to fight!
So, what to do about those pesky triggers? In early recovery, it is a really great idea to avoid them altogether if you can. For instance, don’t go to bars or hang around with people who do drugs. Stay away from those old neighborhoods. If a song comes on the radio that triggers you, change the station.
Also, keep in mind that a trigger is a temporary, fleeting experience. Recognize it for what it is when it shows up in your life. Know that it is completely normal to feel triggered. After all, you were once hooked on highly addictive substances. It is going to take awhile for your brain to return to normal functioning in sobriety.
Before a Trigger Becomes a Craving, Reach out For Help
You don’t have to walk your recovery journey alone. Your sponsor or mentor, sober friends, and supportive family members are available to help you along. They want to see you succeed.
If you find yourself experiencing a trigger, call someone who cares about you. Tell them what is going on. Ask them to remind you of all the reasons why you quit using drugs or alcohol. You may even request that they meet you somewhere until you feel like the situation has passed. And, if you don’t drink or take drugs, IT WILL PASS!
The good news about triggers is they lessen with time as you create new memories. Before long, you will evolve beyond thoughts that generate intense cravings. You may see something that reminds you of your addiction, but you will be indifferent to it.
What if a Trigger Leads to a Relapse?
If you are in recovery, please don’t lose hope in your ability to enjoy sobriety if you experience a relapse. Relapse happens – and believe it or not, it happens to many people who complete addiction treatment. It is nothing to be ashamed of.
Learning to cope with the stresses of daily living without turning to alcohol or drugs is not easy for someone who has repeatedly used these types of substances. After months or years of chemical dependency, the brain must relearn how to a live sober lifestyle.
If you experience a relapse; pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and recommit to your sobriety. Be kind and forgive yourself. You can do this!