Every individual in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction needs to work each day to keep their sobriety. During recovery, each person will encounter triggers that could result in relapse. Knowing and understanding how triggers work and being aware of your personal triggers are critical aspects of safeguarding your recovery.
What Is a Trigger?
In addiction recovery, triggers are people, places, things, experiences, feelings, or events that a person associates with their drug or alcohol use. The trigger causes the person’s brain to experience a flashback to when they were in active addiction. It makes them crave their substance of choice. The craving can happen very quickly. Experiencing the intense urge for drugs or alcohol caused by the trigger can lead the person to relapse.
It is essential to keep in mind that while many triggers result from negative events or experiences, positive events or experiences can also trigger a relapse.
Two Types of Triggers: External & Internal
External triggers are particular locations, activities, things, people, places, objects, situations, smells, tastes, images, and events that make the person want to drink alcohol or use drugs.
Several examples of common external triggers include:
- People: drug dealers, co-workers, friends, spouses, employers
- Places: bars, restaurants, bathrooms, parks, certain friends’ homes, hotels, former locations of drug stashes
- Objects: needles, powdered sugar, empty prescription bottles, beer bottles, wine bottles, magazines
- Situations: family gatherings, parties, holiday celebrations, caring for children, being overwhelmed at work, getting paid, losing a job, concerts, going out on a Friday night with friends, or major life changes such as getting a divorce or moving
- Time: a time of day, week, month, or year
Although external ones are often powerful, many times they are avoidable. An individual usually has some control over external addiction triggers. For example, they can end relationships with certain people, purposefully avoid certain places, or not attend an event where a particular person will be.
Keeping substances out of the home is another way to control external triggers. Avoiding certain sensory memories, like of smells or sounds associated with substance use, is also important. Although it may require some significant life changes to avoid powerful triggers, the benefits make it well worthwhile.
What Is an Internal Trigger?
Internal triggers are emotions, feelings, thoughts, and memories that make the person want to use alcohol or drugs. It is more difficult to deal with internal triggers than with external ones. A person cannot always control internal triggers. For example, they may not be able to control their thoughts or how they feel. It is easier to avoid a particular person or situation than to avoid feeling angry, sad, or depressed. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid experiencing an emotion, change how you feel, or stop yourself from remembering a certain memory.
Emotions that act as internal triggers can be negative, positive, or neutral. Some of the most common internal triggers in addiction recovery are depression and anxiety, wanting to feel normal, increased levels of stress, overconfidence in sobriety, and excitement about positive life events.
Being aware of internal triggers and learning how to manage them requires close introspection and mindfulness.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Help is available. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona, you will learn the skills needed to gain sobriety. Using a combination of medical, clinical, psychiatric, and holistic approaches, our highly skilled professionals will help you heal your mind, body, and spirit.