One of the most significant reasons inpatient treatment is recommended over other forms of rehab is because of its ability to remove the influence of triggers. Triggers are something everyone experiences and they can be any number of social, environmental, or emotional situations. A trigger reminds someone of substance abuse, and while it does not necessarily make a person use, it does increase the likelihood of relapse. This is because triggers develop over a long period of time in which the brain begins to associate routine things with substance use.

Triggers often lead to the experience of cravings. Exposure to triggers can cause a person to involuntarily crave drugs or alcohol. They can be incredibly powerful, even for those who have abstained from use for a long period of time. Their power makes learning how to manage triggers vital to successful recovery in order to reduce the risk of relapse.

External and Internal Triggers

Triggers can be anything and, in some cases, they may be impossible to avoid. Triggers may be external or internal in nature.

External Triggers

External triggers may be a person, place, or thing that reminds the person of past substance abuse.

  • Substance-abusing friends, alienating family members, or people who trigger negative emotions in someone can all push a person towards substance abuse.
  • Places can be triggers as well, especially locations that remind a person of their former substance use. Going to a place where substance abuse occurred or locations, such as bars, may trigger cravings.
  • Objects can also become triggers. Drug-related objects, things used to conceal substances, and even some media representation may trigger a craving.
  • In some cases, specific times of the year or certain situations can also serve as triggers. For example, if substances were used to manage social anxiety, meeting new people, going to parties, or leaving the house may trigger a craving.
  • Holidays can also be a difficult time of year for many people and using drugs or alcohol through these periods of time may feel like second nature.

Internal Triggers

What may be more difficult to manage is the influence of internal triggers. Unlike external triggers, you cannot simply avoid a specific person or place to reduce the risk. Everyday emotions can act as triggers for a person. When someone feels negatively, they may want to use drugs or alcohol to boost their mood. When someone is in a more neutral state of mind, they may want to use in order to pass the time. Even when experiencing positive feelings, a person may feel the urge to use as a means of celebrating. Because any emotion can potentially cause a craving, learning how to respond to situations in a healthy way can reduce the impact of triggers.

The Risk of Relapse

Experiencing a trigger does not mean you will relapse, but without properly addressing it, it could initiate the start of one. The risk of relapse generally grows slowly over time and breaks through several layers before it finally happens.

  1. Emotional relapse: When a person begins to withdraw from others and neglects their own care, it could be a sign that something is developing. Holding back how they feel, not being active in recovery meetings, and neglecting their own needs can create a space for thoughts of using to develop.
  2. Mental relapse: When the mind begins to go back and forth between thoughts of using and reasons not to, a mental relapse is starting to take shape. Mental relapse can be dangerous because it allows a person to entertain the idea of “just once”. They may start looking back on the past fondly and glamorize use. In some cases, a person may be actively looking for a reason to relapse.
  3. Physical relapse: After battling with emotional and mental relapse, a physical relapse is when a person starts using again. In most cases, this is the most difficult to overcome because the brain and body are exposed to the substance again.

Identifying Triggers and Learning How to Manage Them

Experiencing a trigger or craving does not necessarily mean that a person wants to use. It is an involuntary reaction to a specific situation, but it can be managed and worked through. Cravings can produce physical reactions, such as an elevated heart rate or a stomach-turning sensation. They can also create invasive thoughts that are difficult to stop. Because of the impact of substances on the brain, these reactions are normal, but finding a way to avoid setting them off can make coping with them easier.

Identifying your triggers early in recovery can help you prepare your response to them. While cravings can be powerful and feel overwhelming, they will eventually go away. Finding a way to get through it will help them feel more manageable. Not all triggers are avoidable so it is important to find healthy ways to manage them when they do arise.

Coping with Cravings

Coping with a craving requires you to go through several steps:

  1. Recognize the craving
  2. Remove yourself from the situation that is causing it
  3. Actively remind yourself that the craving will pass

Once you have removed yourself from the situation and started processing it internally, it is important to look to your external support system. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor to discuss what you are going through. You can distract your mind through conversation. You may also consider engaging in another activity to redirect your thoughts. Exercising, reading a book, or watching a show can help distract your mind as well.

The earlier a person works on identifying triggers and learning how to manage them, the more successful they will be in dealing with them long-term. Overcoming triggers is a life-long process that requires constant maintenance. With the help of a treatment program, the power triggers have over a person can be diminished.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.


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