Recovery comes with its fair share of obstacles. And for all sober individuals, substance abuse triggers are one of the obstacles they’ll face most regularly.
Triggers of addiction can be people, places, sights, sounds, smells, and even certain times of the year. What makes them harmful is the emotions and memories they bring up surrounding past substance use, as well as their potential to lead to cravings.
Maintaining sobriety requires more than just a great treatment program. It also requires that you acknowledge triggers and have a plan for coping with them when they occur. Here are five practical tips for dealing with triggers in recovery, including how to identify them and process them in a healthy way.
There are two types of triggers in sobriety: internal triggers and external triggers.
Internal triggers are emotions that remind you of a time when you were using. These can be negative (or even positive) thoughts that preceded substance use behavior, or emotions related to certain circumstances, such as feeling lonely, vulnerable, or overly stressed.
External triggers exist outside of oneself – for example, certain people, places, or objects. These triggers also cue memories of past substance use and may bring on strong and seemingly uncontrollable cravings.
Facing internal and external triggers is a normal part of coping with sobriety. That’s because when you’re struggling with substance use disorder, direct connections are made in the brain between certain stimuli and behaviors. Key then to maintaining sobriety long-term is having a plan for managing substance abuse triggers and the cues and cravings they can lead to.
Remember: triggers in recovery are normal. They are not a sign of weakness or a guarantee that relapse will occur. Follow the tips below to aid you in dealing with triggers and making your recovery an easier process.
Triggers are personal to each individual, and may come up when you least expect them. When you find yourself with a craving, think about the experience and/or emotion that preceded it and how they’re connected. Try to do so without self-judgment, simply acknowledging what happened and removing any sort of guilt from the situation. As you identify your triggers, you can make a direct effort to avoid them, such as by changing your routine or avoiding certain places and people.
The coping skills you develop in recovery will be instrumental in helping you deal with triggers.
Examples of coping skills that may be helpful to you in recovery include journaling, exercising, mindfulness, or favorite hobbies. If you’re not sure what will work best, think about what serves as a joyful distraction for you and helps you think more clearly. Then engage with these skills regularly, both when triggers arise and as part of your everyday routine.
Friends, family, and mental health counselors can all help you cope with triggers in recovery. You may also find it helpful to connect with sober peers who can relate to your experience. If you’re not sure where to start, look up local Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, or check online for addiction recovery support groups in your area.
By participating in activities with a positive impact on our mental and physical well-being – including getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and practicing relaxation techniques – we support our mental health in crucial ways and strengthen our ability to handle triggers.
Try to do at least one self-care activity every day, even something small like listening to your favorite album or flossing before bed. As these practices become routine, you should find yourself feeling more resilient – and better able to hold your ground when triggers occur.
A relapse prevention plan is a written document that keeps you accountable for your recovery goals. When creating it, reference your known triggers and come up with a concrete plan for what you’ll do when they occur. To increase accountability, consider sharing this plan with an individual in your support system. You should also expand your plan as you get further into recovery and identify new triggers and coping skills.
Managing triggers is a must for sustainable recovery. Use the strategies above to tackle triggers head-on, and recognize that triggers – and your response to them – are likely to evolve as you grow in your sobriety.
In need of further support? Please contact us today to learn more about South Beach Detox and our inpatient substance use treatment center.