Addiction TriggersAddictions often start as casual habits. As you continue to engage in a behavior or use a certain substance, you may in time develop a compulsion to continue the behavior. These compulsions are often associated with certain stimuli—something environmental, social or personal that acts as a queue to turn to substance abuse.

These stimuli are often called triggers, and as addictive behavior continues it is common for these addiction triggers to become stronger.

What are Triggers in Addiction?

A trigger is any form of stimuli that initiates the desire to engage in addictive behavior. During the course of a recovery program, triggers may prompt an individual to slip-up and use a substance or engage in a behavior that they otherwise are trying to avoid.

Triggers are associated with a memory or situation that relates in some way to prior substance abuse behaviors. As someone struggles with addiction, the people they interact with, the places they spend their time and in some situations their place of work can become strongly associated with their addictive behavior.

Common triggers in addiction include:

  • Stress
  • People
  • Locations
  • Moods
  • Dates
  • Smells

During recovery, it helps to reduce exposure to these triggers as much as possible. This may require changing relationships, moving to a different side of town or making a career change. Triggers prompt cravings, which are strong desires for a certain substance.

Learning how to identify triggers and developing strategies to manage cravings are core aspects of most addiction recovery programs.

Managing Addiction Triggers

Triggers are highly personal. To manage your addiction triggers, you first must identify them.

Environmental triggers are often easy to identify. Going to a bar, being in a certain neighborhood or your childhood home may bring back unpleasant memories that you highly associated with substance abuse.

Social triggers are often easy to identify. For example, getting a phone call from a family member, meeting with a fellow user or seeing a former significant other may incite the desire to abuse a substance.

Emotional triggers are often more complicated. For many people, underlying emotional and mental health concerns will trigger substance abuse, and so managing triggers requires managing your personal emotional state.

Emotions commonly associated with substance abuse include:

  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Exhaustion
  • Frustration
  • Depression

Once triggers are identified, create a plan to cope with exposure to them. Know that bumping into a certain person or passing a bar or liquor store may leave you in a vulnerable place. Have an accountability plan to help you prevent a slip-up in these situations. This may include calling someone in your support network, journaling or removing yourself from a stressful situation.


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