How To Identify And Cope With Addiction Triggers

Addiction triggers are situations and emotions that may compel a person to drink alcohol or use drugs. Some addiction triggers are very common, but there are several techniques that people can use to deal with them effectively.

In the mental health field, a trigger is something that causes a person to involuntarily experience symptoms of their mental illness.

For example, when a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction confronts something that reminds them of their trauma, that reminder can trigger a flashback.

For people with substance use disorders, triggers are things that may cause them to drink or use drugs.

However, when a person understands their own triggers and prepares for them effectively, they may avoid relapse.

Many people with substance use disorders attend addiction therapy, either as an individual or as a participant in group therapy, to learn about their own triggers.

Common Relapse Triggers

While relapse triggers can vary from person to person, many relapse triggers are quite common. Knowing these common relapse triggers can help people in recovery prepare for them.

Emotional Addiction Triggers

Strong emotions, especially negative emotions, may increase a person’s chance of relapsing.

Some common emotional relapse triggers can include:

  • stress
  • anger
  • sadness
  • grief
  • fear
  • loneliness
  • overwhelm

These emotions can catch people off guard, but a person might prepare for them by thinking about situations that commonly cause them.

Then, when these situations arise, the person can avoid being taken by surprise and have a plan in place for dealing with them.

Social Triggers

Some triggers are social. Certain people, especially people who use drugs or alcohol, may trigger somebody in recovery to relapse.

Other social triggers include:

  • loud or crowded spaces
  • family gatherings
  • meeting new people
  • job interviews

Environmental Triggers

Certain environments can also trigger relapse by reminding a person of their previous drug use.

For example, visiting the location where they used to use drugs can prompt the desire to abuse substances.

Other environmental triggers might be:

  • returning to a home in isolation
  • poor living conditions
  • being in a bar or restaurant where alcohol is present
  • a work happy hour

The Presence Of Substances

The presence of drugs and alcohol may also cause a relapse.

When a person sees or smells the substances that they used to use, they may experience strong cravings for those substances as a result.

Relapse Coping Techniques

Once relapse triggers have been identified, people in recovery can use techniques to manage them. Addiction therapy teaches several coping methods.

Distress Tolerance Skills

Certain types of therapy, especially dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), teach distress tolerance skills, which are practical, simple skills that can be used in response to stressful situations.

Some distress tolerance skills include:

  • taking deep breaths
  • meditating or praying
  • taking a break
  • using positive affirmations
  • performing intense exercise
  • contributing to good causes
  • making pro and con lists
  • focusing on the five senses
  • finding meaning in the situation

The HALT Method

Some addiction therapists and 12-step groups teach the HALT method.

While most distress tolerance skills are designed for any stressful situation, the HALT method was designed specifically for people who are facing a possible relapse.

The HALT acronym stands for:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

All of these feelings have the potential to weaken a person’s resolve, especially if a person has been feeling them for a long time.

When tempted to use drugs or alcohol, people can ask themselves if they are feeling any of the above sensations or emotions.

If they are feeling any of the above, the HALT method requires addressing those feelings to the best of the person’s ability.

Alleviating these difficulties can both provide a healthy distraction and strengthen a person’s willpower.

Group Therapy And Common Interests

Group therapy, 12-step groups, and similar environments can be especially helpful for people who want to learn their triggers and prevent relapse.

These groups are beneficial for two reasons. First, they provide a common goal and practical ways to work toward that goal.

For example, relapse prevention groups focus specifically on developing effective ways to deal with triggers.

Second, they provide a sense of community, and that community can reduce loneliness, which is a common addiction trigger.

Joining a like-minded group of people can also provide the social interaction that a person might not otherwise have when limiting interactions with people who use drugs or alcohol.

Substitute Behaviors

Substitute behaviors can also help people deal with relapse triggers. When quitting substances, many people struggle to know what they should do instead.

The lack of substance creates a temporary activity vacuum, and that vacuum can cause discomfort for people who are used to having something to fill their time.

One way to handle this difficulty is to create a list of substitute activities. These activities can include new hobbies, exercise, and similar things.

It can be tough to think of alternate activities while experiencing a trigger, but having a pre-planned list can make it easier to make a healthy choice.

Find Addiction Therapy In Massachusetts

Addiction triggers are just one of many things that make substance abuse complicated. However, the right addiction treatment can make a difference.

Spring Hill Recovery Center provides several types of addiction therapy, including aftercare treatment options that help people in recovery prevent relapse.

If you or a loved one are looking for addiction therapy, contact Spring Hill Recovery Center today.

  1. National Institute On Drug Abuse — Treatment And Recovery
  2. National Library Of Medicine — Relapse Prevention And The Five Rules Of Recovery
  3. Taylor And Francis Online — Psychosocial Triggers Of Relapse In Persons With Chronic Mental Illness

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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