One of the most common signs of drug or alcohol addiction is craving. And during recovery, cravings are just one step away from relapsing. But how exactly do cravings come about?
Research shows that cravings are brought on by personal triggers. This is why recognizing your triggers is one of the most important factors in staying sober after rehab.
Triggers come in many forms, including emotional and physical. Often, they can be difficult to recognize and even more challenging to address.
But if you’re dead set on staying sober, it’s time for you to take the plunge. Have you begun to wonder what your triggers are and how to deal with them before they result in a relapse? Then this guide is for you.
What Is a Trigger?
A “trigger” is generally defined as something that leads to a reaction. In people struggling with addictions, triggers are physical or emotional stimuli that lead to drug or alcohol cravings.
It’s important to differentiate between two types of triggers: physical and emotional triggers.
Physical or environmental triggers are external to you. They include things like seeing drugs and alcohol or being around others who are intoxicated.
But environmental triggers also include seeing your old drug paraphernalia, the place where you used to use, or the people you used to use with. Being around people who stress you out or undergoing stressful events can also serve as external triggers.
You could also feel physically triggered watching a movie or TV show portraying drug or alcohol use. Even reading about activities you used to partake in could lead to a craving.
Importantly, there’s a strong subjective aspect to physical triggers. In other words, if you don’t feel like an external event or stimulus is triggering, it won’t increase your risk of relapsing. More on this later.
All physical triggers come with strong emotions. And, according to research, feeling strong emotions can sometimes cause an external event to be even more triggering.
But emotional triggers don’t always come with environmental triggers. Simply feeling strong emotions like stress or frustration could lead to a craving. In fact, stress is the #1 cause of cravings and, ultimately, relapse.
Emotional triggers are so common before relapse, addiction experts have come up with an acronym: HALT.
H – hungry
A – angry
L – lonely
T – tired
These emotions are extremely common for people recovering from addiction.
Other emotional triggers can come about from anniversaries of losses or traumas and even celebrations. Financial problems and relationship turmoil can also cause stress and, thus, increase your risk for using again.
Interestingly, many individuals in recovery feel tempted after receiving large sums of money. If you’re worried your paycheck might trigger you, consider asking someone to temporarily oversee your bank account.
Additional examples of triggers in the workplace include a lack of control or feeling overwhelmed. Feeling misunderstood, judged, attacked, or invalidated are also common on-the-job emotions that can be triggering.
Unfortunately, we can’t always eliminate all these feelings. And this is especially true when we’re at work. Instead, we must learn to recognize and then cope with these triggers.
Why Is Recognizing Your Triggers Important for Recovery?
Recognizing your physical and emotional triggers is critical to staying abstinent. At first, this is because you’ll want to shape your life in ways that allow you to avoid your triggers.
Yet, as we’ve mentioned, you can’t avoid your triggers forever. You have to learn to cope with them. And before you can cope with strong emotions and physical reminders of your addiction, you must recognize your triggers.
If you can do that, you’ll reduce your chance of relapsing. Here’s why.
Triggers and the Stages of Relapse
Experts have identified three stages of relapse:
- Emotional relapse
- Mental relapse
- Physical relapse
As we mentioned, triggers are always associated with strong emotions. Failing to cope with these emotions can lead to the first stage of relapse.
In the emotional stage of relapse, the recovering person hasn’t started thinking about relapsing. But he or she is experiencing strong emotions that are difficult to cope with. Often, these strong emotions come about due to triggers.
The good news is that catching yourself at the first stage of relapse can prevent you from progressing into the second stage, during which you start actively thinking about using.
But how do you stop yourself from progressing into the mental stage of relapse? Journaling, creating a sober living plan, and finding new ways to cope with big emotions may help reduce or even eliminate your cravings.
How to Identify and Deal With Your Triggers
The first step to understanding and overcoming your triggers is educating yourself. So, pat yourself on the back for clicking on this article. You’re already on the path to dealing with your triggers.
Still, identifying triggers can be extremely difficult, especially when they’re emotional. We’ve compiled some tips to help you identify and deal with your triggers below.
Keep a Journal
One way to understand your personal triggers is to keep a journal. You can begin during rehab.
Think back to your time before rehab and try to identify people, places, or things that used to trigger you to use. Write down what and how you felt before and during those moments.
Thinking back to times when you were using is better done while you’re still in rehab. After all, research shows that memories of drug use are also associated with cravings. Having a strong support system around you can help you reflect on your experiences without risking relapse.
Once you’re out of rehab, you can continue journaling. Any time you experience strong emotions that are difficult to cope with, write them down. Take particular note of events or feelings that lead to thoughts of using.
Once you feel like you’ve identified a few or most of your physical and emotional triggers, it’s time to start dealing with them.
Create a Sober Living Plan
Before you ever get out of rehab, you must create a sober living plan. This plan should detail how you’ll deal with triggers and cravings in the real world.
For example, many people in recovery will ask a friend or family member to remove all paraphernalia from their home. This can help reduce physical reminders of your drug or alcohol use.
Any good sober living plan will also include:
- A support system
- A daily routine
- A crisis management strategy
It’s also important to learn how to set healthy boundaries. Communicating your boundaries to the people you surround yourself with can help prevent negative feelings from arising in the first place.
You could also take advantage of Cenikor’s sober living program. This program offers a sober living environment to people in recovery who are getting ready to re-enter the real world.
Develop New Coping Skills
You used to use alcohol and/or drugs to cope with your problems. So, you need to develop new, healthier coping skills. Methods recovering individuals use to deal with their triggers include:
- Rest and relaxation
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Working with a sponsor
Of course, this list barely scratches the surface of the many coping skills you can use to deal with negative emotions.
For example, research shows that a simple change of mindset can reduce negative emotions. If you don’t see your trigger as triggering, you’ll actually experience less stress and frustration.
Seek Help for Unaddressed Trauma
Many people struggling with addiction are also dealing with unaddressed traumas. Whether the trauma is from childhood or adulthood, it can increase your risk for mental health conditions and addiction.
This is because we adopt coping mechanisms to deal with our negative feelings stemming from the trauma. And many people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope.
In fact, one study found that 40% of “highly traumatized” people struggle with alcohol and/or cocaine use disorders. And almost 70% of young people in rehab have experienced some sort of childhood trauma.
The good news is that counseling can help you face your trauma head-on. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) encourages people in recovery to identify and address their negative experiences and the thought patterns that come out of those events.
With the help of a certified professional, you can finally deal with and overcome your trauma. And this will increase your chances of lifelong sobriety.
Cenikor Wants to Help You Live a Better Life
Physical and emotional triggers are often responsible for relapse. But when you start recognizing your triggers and learn how to cope with them healthily, your journey toward recovery will be much more successful.
Do you need counseling to overcome your triggers once and for all? Cenikor’s Recovery Support program offers services for people with chronic relapses. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you live a healthier, better life.